If you were raised, live, work, or frequently travel through a rural area, you have most likely encountered escaped livestock at sometime in your life. If you have livestock, especially cattle, it’s not if they get out, it’s when. As responsible producers, we should do everything in our power to prevent the when, but it is inevitable. We are dealing with creatures that have evolved to roam. Cattle like to stay on the move and are always looking for new and tender stuff to eat. Storms fall trees and cause power outages and cows have a special radar for downed fences and dead wire. I’ve heard the statement many times “Those cows wouldn’t be out if they had something to eat in their pasture.” Not true. Cows live by the motto “The grass is always greener on the other side.”
When we move our cows into a new paddock full of a fresh, tender mix of grasses and clover, there is always one who rushes straight to the fence line and within few minutes of the move she is down on her knees like a goat, eating about 3 feet under the poly wire. If a cow gets out of the paddock, it’s most likely her. Like a rebellious teenager, it’s the thought of having to stay on a designated side of the fence that sends her scrambling for the forbidden fruit on other side.
My point is that since we know cows will get out, we should have a plan to return them quickly to their pasture for the safety of the public and the safety of the cattle. When animals are out of the pasture, they know it. Although seemingly happy to be free of the constraints of a fence, cattle do experience stress because it’s a different place and a disruption in their routine. Chasing cows around or trying to push them back usually causes more stress and stressed animals do not react as they would in a normal cattle drive to and from a familiar place.
Many producers will drive the truck or tractor that they normally use to feed the cattle daily and the cows will follow the vehicle back to the pasture. We don’t supplement our cows daily, so what’s our plan?
Most of the time we can get in hearing range and call the cows back. We call our cows before every move and our cows are moved frequently. This time of year, our cows are moving twice daily, sometimes more often. We walk through the herd, go to the gate, shout “Woo” and the cows come running. We do this year-round, and the cows also teach the calves. Many cows will call their babies when it is moving time and some can even be seen rousting up their little ones and gently nudging them in the direction of the new pasture.
Because we are with the cows daily, walking among them, they learn that they are safe with us in the pasture. We spend time on foot with the animals monitoring their forage and inspecting them as they eat. Many of the cows do not even look up from their grazing as we pass by. Moving the cows daily makes for gentle, and responsive cattle. The cows get used to us and do not spook when we bring strangers in to the pasture. Some cattle may be used to a tractor, but drive it out in the middle of the herd, switch it off, and get out. If the cows are not used to seeing a human on foot, they will scatter, some running over anything and everything that is between the cow and “as far away as possible.” This is not a desired response when trying to catch, move, or relocate the animals safely; especially in a situation where cows may be in contact with people that are not used to livestock.
Scared animals are dangerous animals and cows are big. Cattle response is learned. If the cows learn that when they see humans, they will be moving safely to more delicious ground, they will happily follow. This is not only for the safety of the human handlers, but the safety of the cattle. Cattle that cannot be caught, cannot receive medical attention if needed. If cattle learn that when they see humans, they are going to be chased by dogs and poked and prodded with sticks, they will respond negatively.
Cows are living creatures with minds of their own. Just like a child in public, no matter how often or how gentle they are handled, there is no guarantee they are going to react the way that you want them to. However, in our experience, moving cattle often, using quiet and gentle methods, will result in the desired response….most of the time.