Like any successful business manager, ranchers must always adapt and re-evaluate their management techniques to improve on the past. I’m not saying change is always inherently good; often times I’m surprised to find that a “new” method is only new in the repackaged sense, but is a time-proven technique ranchers have used for decades. Stockmanship is certainly one of those topics. In the introduction to his book, Stockmanship1, Steve Cote states “[This book] doesn’t explain a new method. It’s about one that is quite old, but was developed and perfected in modern times by Bud Williams.”
The Stockmanship Journal defines stockmanship as “The knowledgeable and skillful handling of livestock in a safe, efficient, effective, and low-stress manner2.” Successful stockmanship takes a scientific understanding of animal behavior and develops methods to execute proper animal handling. Thanks to the work from people like Temple Grandin, Bud Williams, and Steve Cote, we now have a better understanding of how cows think and behave.
“Animal Handling is both an art and a science”
Dr. Temple Grandin is arguably the best-known animal behavior scientist to circles outside the ag industry. She is credited with challenging the traditional approach to cattle handling, and influencing the design of livestock facilities on farms and ranches, feedlots, and slaughter plants. In her set up, she encourages a low-stress environment for cattle. Grandin’s corral design reduces shadow flickers, gives cow’s a focus on an open exit, and leverages the cow’s desire to return to her initial starting point in a circular pattern as way to handle cattle more effectively. More information on Temple Grandin’s livestock handling systems can be found here.
The late stockman, Bud Williams, is another influential figure in moving the industry to focus on cattle handling. The Bud Williams approach requires skilled handling of livestock and emphasizes the interaction between the animal and the handler. In his design, he uses open siding so cows can watch their surroundings, teaches people to use pressure and release as a way to encourage and reward cattle movement, and also leverages the cow’s desire to return to her starting point with the use of a Bud Box.
Animal handling is both an art and a science. I would argue that the same principles that apply to handling cattle, are the same ones that generate success when working horses, training dogs, and raising kids. The foundation rests on consistency, a system of rewards and consequences, and clear objectives. No two ranches have the same corral systems. Ranchers have to find a system that works for them. The corrals they build must meet the primary objectives of their operation, and need to fit within the constraints set by economic considerations, space, and skill of their employees.
I chose this topic because I wanted to highlight the progress of the cattle industry to find ways that help producers handle cattle more effectively. All too often, the stories that hit the newspapers focus on the bad of animal agriculture. The internet is full of undercover videos that document gross neglect of animal care and well-being. These are the demons that the agriculture industry has to face. It would be a lie to say that no producer abuses or mistreats their animals, but those examples are few and far between; they are just the stories that make the headlines. The reality is that effective implementation of stockmanship can influence every aspect a ranching operation. It can reduce labor costs by decreasing the amount of labor and time spent handling cattle, it can improve animal productivity by creating a low-stress environment that helps animals perform better, and it can positively affect grazing behavior that helps improve rangeland management. I certainly don’t want to sell stockmanship as a cure-all; there are no cure-all solutions to ranching. It is simply one more tool in the tool chest that is available to livestock producers to deliver a safe, healthy product.
1. Cote, S. (2004). Stockmanship: A powerful tool for grazing lands management. Butte Soil and Water Conservation District. Arco, ID.
2. Defining Stockmanship. (2016). Retrieved January 17, 16, from http://www.stockmanshipjournal.com/defining-stockmanship/