Four experienced ranchers shared their beautiful ranches and livestock with 76 ranchers gathered together to learn low stress handling techniques on May 3, 2014 near Olsburg, KS. Each place had unique facilities created with ease of working livestock as the first priority. Participating ranchers were Bill Edwards, Alan Hubbard, Joseph Hubbard, and Bob Avery, with three facilities for cattle and one for sheep and goats. All of the facilities used concepts from well-known livestock master Bud Williams.
Bill Edwards tries to minimize stress and keep it as low as possible. “In order to move cattle a little, you have to stress them a little to get them to move. Cattle seek comfort. They want to go back to where they feel comfort, back to where they were,” Bill said. “They resist being forced. Too much pressure causes the cow to turn and face you.” Bill only works a few head at a time in an alley and chute. He works beside the cows to get them to work correctly, and doesn’t force from behind. “Once the motion starts, then try to turn the animal,” he said. “Working out in a pasture, it’s best to work in straight lines, which gives the animals pressure and release. Press to ask them to move, then when they respond, back off and reward them.”
Many in attendance were introduced to a “Bud Box” for the first time, a theory designed by Bud Williams. If the working box is filled with a few animals, they turn to return to their place of origin, but the gate is closed behind them, so they go into the alley and fill the chute. The first cow is always the hardest to get to move forward into alley. If the alley is kept loaded, the cows just move up. Sorting livestock works best if done before the animals are moved into the working pens. As always, patience is critical in sorting.
The second tour stop featured Joseph and Allan Hubbard, Bob Avery, and the sheep. As the tour guests arrived, a border collie brought ewes down from the hilltop pasture. The sheep were then herded out of the pen, down an alley to the sheep size “Bud Box” for Joseph to demonstrate how easy it is to work and sort the sheep. Bud Williams would say, “You don’t force the animal to go down an alley, you let them go down the alley.” Joseph demonstrated that sheep will just fly down the alley using that mentality. “The bud box is for flow, especially with sheep, don’t use it for a sorting pen,” he recommended. When working sheep, only a few head should be put in at a time. If the gate on the “Bud Box” latches by the alley, it makes the operator get in the correct position to make it work better. By moving the gate, they can sort the sheep two different directions. Lambs are ear tagged with ram lambs tagged in one ear and females tagged in the other ear to make sorting easier.
Border collies are used to herd and guard dogs to protect the small ruminants while grazing out in the pastures. Guard dogs get along well with herd dogs, and they seem to understand each other’s purpose. The guard dogs used are an Akbash female and an Akbash, Anatolian cross.
Alan Hubbard shared his ranch philosophy, plus many tips he has learned through years of managed grazing. He advised, “You ride a horse because you are too lazy to walk, not to outrun a cow,” he said. “90% of the time when it’s a bad day working cattle, the day went astray during the gather. The day started wrong and messed up the animal’s attitude for the day. Once the day goes wrong, it will continue to go that way the rest of the day, because the animals are less willing to take the pressure and work with the handlers. Sheep are different than cattle in that once one flows they all want to go.”
Bob Avery’s system utilizes a working alley with a gate. To work a “Bud Box,” filling the alley doesn’t work from the back pushing the animals. It’s best to open the alley gate, walk toward the cows, and they will walk by the handler and fill the alley. To get them to move forward in the alley, simply walk toward them alongside the alley, and the cows will walk forward to fill into the chute.
The cattle on the tour have not been buzzed with a hot shot, beaten with a stick, or mistreated, therefore, they are willing to cooperate and work. Cattle should have no need to fear the handler. Once the handler moves toward the cow and passes the point of pressure on the animal (the animal’s front shoulder) they automatically move forward toward the chute. If the cows are approached in the alley from the back to try to crowd forward, the cows back away from the chute down the alley. When the handler puts himself in front of the cows, moving away from the chute parallel to the alley, the cows move forward into the chute. It is best to hold the excess cows in the sorting pen and not overload the “Bud Box” that fills into the alley. The extra cows that stand out back while the first group is being processed will not flow into alley. They have lost the “flow back to where they came from” mentality.
The final stop of the day was to move a group of Hereford heifers through a portable working facility designed with a built in “Bud Box” and sorting pens. A perfect day was had by all; complete with a catered lunch in the hayloft of Joseph Hubbard’s restored barn.
This tour was the last event of the Amazing Grazing Grant awarded to Kansas Farmers Union and funded by North Central Risk Management Education Center (NCRMEC), supported by USDA (NIFA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Grants areawarded through a competitive application and review process. Amazing Grazing project collaborators include Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition, National Resources Conservation Service, Kansas State Research and Extension, Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops, Kansas Graziers Association and Kansas Farmers Union.