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 Google+.