First off, I apologize for such a long time elapsing since last posting an article for you to read. The past two months have been a whirlwind of activity here at the farm which included finishing 3,400′ of buried water, building 9,000′ of fence and installing a walk-in freezer. The good news is, I have lots of new experiences with these things to write about for future articles.
This time however, I want to talk about the importance of calling your cows (and sheep) from one paddock to the next. Years ago, when I first began looking into rotational grazing I remember speaking with one of the NRCS guys about this. He is also a grazier and really drove home the importance of “calling” your livestock vs. “driving” them from paddock to paddock. Ever since that time, I’ve focused on opening the single break wire into the new paddock where the fresh food is and calling the cows. I try and give them a good 16′ opening but make them walk right past me to get into the new grazing area by opening the “gate” perpendicular to break wire. Cows learn really quickly too, that in order to eat they have follow their farmer! Generally speaking, we can take brand new stocker calves on our farm and within 3-7 days they have it down pat. The faster they get into the new paddock, the faster they get to eat the “ice cream” of the grasses that await them. During the first week, it is not uncommon to have to get behind the new calves and drive a couple of them thru the opening. But before long, they figure it out and their bellies win over any apprehensions they have about moving.
You might be wondering why this is important and there are many benefits. First, herding and driving cattle is no fun. They never seem to go where you want them to go and if they are used to following you to happiness each day (read: fresh food) it just makes life easier. Second, should your livestock ever get out, you have a much better chance of getting them to follow you back to where they are supposed to go if they are used to being called. It is no guarantee of course, but it is better than trying to drive them thru a 16′ gate from God knows where. If they are used to walking thru that gate, used to you and used to being called your chances of success are greatly improved. Lastly, an experience my wife and I had last week really drove this home. We had one beef scheduled to go to the butcher and of course the herd was about as far away from the corral as they could possibly be. I had two options: Move the entire herd of 23 cattle 1,500′, separate the one I wanted and then move the rest of the herd back that 1,500′ and hope that nothing went wrong. Or, I could separate the one animal and get him to where I need him to go. We chose the later option for obvious reasons. Instead of setting up a lane with lots and lots of portable posts and reels, we decided to try an experiment and see how far this big guy would follow me. We got him separated from the main herd by driving him backwards into the previous days grazing area (which was no fun, he didn’t want to go that direction!). The 18 acre pasture that we are currently using is subdivided into three 200′ wide by 1,250′ long areas. We then pushed him from the center section into one of the other sections so he was totally by himself and we had permanent interior fencing between him and his buddies. I then began walking backwards calling him and he followed me almost without fail. Out in a 6 acre area, 1,250′ long, he walked in a straight line following me as I walked backwards clapping my hands and yelling out “hey cow!” just like I do everyday. I’m certain he thought I was taking him to fresh food, back to his herd, or both. As a result, our job of getting him to the corral was really easy and quick.
By the time it was all said and done, he followed me just over 1500′ to the corral where we easily loaded him into the livestock trailer. We didn’t require 6 men, 3 four-wheelers, lots of yelling and cursing or hot shot sticks to make him load. In about 30 minutes from start to finish, myself and my wife (who is all of 5′-3” and 105lbs) loaded a 1000lb steer with no problems or fuss – all because he was used to following me where ever I called him. This is just but one of the many benefits of working with your animals every day and them being used to a routine.
I hope you find this tip useful in your own farming endeavors!