Excuses. That's what I often hear when talking about managing cattle. I heard that recently in Montana. "Oh, it'll take two years to get these cows to handle." Oh...brother. Low Stress Stockmanship can be effected the first time you interact with a herd. And conducted in a tractor. Yes, in a tractor. Optimally from a horse, but even from a tractor.
I've watched guys (yes, we're normally the greatest offenders) essentially "run over" cows on their way to the feed grounds. "Oh, she'll get out of the way" is what I hear. She does, and it works, but imagine if every interaction is like that. The cows understand that they're simply assets. They learn to get out of the way - every time - tractor, horse, four wheeler, whatever.
Alternatively, if we remember that every interaction with a cow is a learning experience then we might take a different tack. That cow in the way while we're in the tractor? What if we take just a second and slow down and direct her using the tractor? Use the bucket and the front end to get to one side of her, just barely, and then stop. Give her a second to figure out what you're doing and then let her do it. The effect: she's less panicked than normal, she recognizes a signal to move, you feel a little less stressed and she's watching and waiting for your input next time. These are important because if you follow the pattern for the entire herd then they'll be looking for your leadership and direction rather than looking at you as an (unwitting) predator to be avoided.
Oh, and those bad cows that needed two years to whip into shape? Here's a video of a little more than 600 head of them being gathered and directed. What an ordeal!
The secret? When I approached the widely scattered herd I did so from the front. I started by gathering the outside edges and "funneling" them into the middle around me. That got movement going and, when they went around me and found a release, they continued going in the direction of the release. As I then went to the outside edges and allowed those animals to go around me they just followed the leaders.
It was easy from there. Easy. Once the momentum was started the rest of the herd just followed. Even the cows on the other side of the creek knew where to go once they crossed the creek or left the willows around the creek.
More details to follow in subsequent posts. I'll diagram the process of starting the herd.