Sunday, September 26, 2010

Paying attention to animals

Animals don't think and process information just exactly like we do, nor do they react like we do to various sorts of stimuli. This may seem self evident to many of my readers but it gets us into trouble with farm animals in two different ways.

The first happens when we attribute human reactions to animals. We ALL do this at least to some degree and enough of us do it often enough that there is a term for it...anthropomorphism. Maybe we urge our dog in because it's cold or wet or both outside, and we get frustrated because Fido doesn't want to listen to us. He's comfortable under the conditions at hand and maybe he's enjoying playing in the mud. The same thing befalls us when we deal with farm animals and horses. Melissa and I joke that we've spent a hundred thousand dollars on run in sheds to appease horse owners. This must be correct because the only time we ever see the (damn!) horses in them is on perfect days like today....75 degrees and partly sunny. With a very few exceptions, when it's raining and 35 it seems to us that they are ALL outside grazing, whether or not they have blankets or rainsheets on.

The second happens when we fail to adequately take into account an animals reaction to certain situations. I'll pick on myself and my family and use the example of loading cattle onto an enclosed truck or trailer for reasons of transport. For years the accustomed way to do this was to pen cattle up tight (often difficult to achieve on short notice) in a corral or catch pen they had rarely if ever been before, back the truck up, open the truck/trailer door and force the whole bunch on with raised voices and sticks. We never did use prods, but they are liberally used on some farms. At best this method led to terrified and irrational animals which led to frayed human nerves and short human tempers. It also leads to severely damaged catch pens, cattle and loading facilites because stressed cows sometimes go bonkers and when a creature weighing 1500 lbs goes bonkers, mister you've got trouble on your hands.

At some point, somebody in the family got angry and frustrated enough with this methodology to come up with a better way to get this job done. With a little foresight and planning, it's very possible to eliminate 95 percent of the trouble from moving cows. Today, I feed every cow destined to leave this place some sort of treat in the nearest corral every day for months before the anticpated departure. We make very clear to our human help that anyone who raises their voice or tries to move cows with force gets a one way trip home and will never work on this place again. We park the trailer (with the door wired open) in the loading chute weeks before we move cattle to get them used to it AND we feed the cattle IN the loading chute as well as in the trailer to get them comfortable with it. Guess what ? By paying attention to, acknowledging and overcoming their fears, today I can pen up and load a trailer full of calves by myself in a few minutes. Nobody gets hurt and the animals aren't stressed. My goal is to have half the cattle on the trailer chewing their cud, and while I don't always achieve this result, I've managed to achieve this level of comfort before.


SmartAlex said...

Reminds me of the day my mother's then boyfriend came to pick up this wild longhorn cow we had been storing in the pasture for him. He was ready for all kinds of adventure, as that was what we had when we picked her up the first time. He backed the stock trailer up to the gate, and I said "I think I can just lead her in", and was met with a cowboy challenge. Now mind you, this cow was wild and you couldn't put a hand on her, but she was wearing a halter and was "bucket trained". I gave her a bucket of sweet feed under the fence, reached under and snapped a rope on her, then moved her bucket, hand over hand around the gate post and squeezed myself into the chute. He operated the trailer door, and in about two minutes she was finishing her grain in the trailer, never raising her head and never noticed her predicament. In fact, I think he still owes me $50 over that!

Anonymous said...

My beef guy (who is also my alfalfa hay guy) does much the same as you. The cattle just seem to ooze along and wind up in the right place. Then they have a nice little 3 mile trip on a 2 lane rodd to their "fatal destination". Lovely beef every time.

Love the blog!
~spotz58, whose google ID is chronically screwed up

Jason said...

SmartAlex; You're hired ! And if cow whisperer doesn't work out you can just tell me stories all day long. ;)

Spotz58; Thanks for the compliment !