Understand Your Cattle’s Flight Zone


Editor in Chief Hank Will, in his International.Although it’s possible to get cattle to go where you want them to go by harassing them from behind, the fact of the matter is that when being chased, cattle really want to turn and face the enemy. If you take a little time to understand a cow’s flight zone and invade it from different sides and directions, you can often get them to do exactly what you want them to do with less stress and minimal chance of getting injured yourself.

The flight zone is an area approximated by a circle with the animal as the center point — a small wedge-shaped piece of that circle directly behind the animal is a blind spot. Spend some time in the blind spot and the cow will instinctively turn to face you. The flight zone’s size is directly related to how tame the animal is and how stirred up it is. Completely tame cattle have almost no flight zone, while wild cattle may have a flight zone that’s more than 100 feet in diameter.

If your cattle are calm, you can get them to move forward by arcing into the flight zone slightly in front of a herd leader and taking a few steps parallel and toward the rear of the animal. Once you are passed the cow’s halfway point, you can arc out of the zone, walk ahead and repeat the cycle. It’s counterintuitive but it works.

Take a little time to study how cattle respond to invasion of their flight zone and you may find cowboying to be a totally calming experience. Your cattle will thank you and your health insurance company will too.

Watch the full episode! Hanks shares hints like these in each episode of Tough Grit. Visit Tough Grit online to view this episode and many more. The flight zone tips above appeared in Episode 14, “Rawhide.”

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

Martha Wells
6/8/2013 6:02:55 AM

We have Texas Longhorns. In order to corral them to work them (branding, hauling, horn measurements, etc., ) we have to out-think them. I have an old trailer we set up in the pasture and I routinely toss treats inside the trailer. They take turns bullying their way to pick up oranges, apples, 'cow cubes', and other goodies inside the trailer. All learn that that dark cavern is not their enemy, and all will scramble to get inside when I pull it out into the pasture. I also use horse panel set up around the backside of the trailer, and corral them there. If anyone is reluctant to go inside the trailer, it's pretty easy to just start removing panels to squeeze the cows toward the trailer. We're quiet and very soft when working around the cattle. It may take more time than 'cowboy - ing ' them, but it results in much calmer cattle and a safer way to handle big longhorned cows.

3/1/2013 4:16:49 AM

Hank, I guess we always had tame cows. Well, when you milk cows they get herded much more than a pasture herd. We could just call them in from the pasture with a "Come Boss" or two and soon you would see them coming around the hill toward the barn yard. When they would wander too far to hear the call just calling while walking toward the herd would get them coming home to the barn. In the morning they were usually standing in front of the barn door waiting to be milked and fed. I expect that dairy herd are much more manageable just because of the daily interaction with them. Do you milk any of your cows? They just don't really look like the kind of cow that would be milked. Have a great cow herding day.

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