- We learn something every day, and lots of times it’s that what we learned the day before was wrong. Bill Vaughan
Two ways to herd cattle.
Understand the flight zone
Be aware that cattle tend to move in a circular direction, and have areas of what is called a "flight zone." This is the short term used to describe the maximum distance that an animal is comfortable maintaining in your presence. If you are outside of the flight zone, there will be no movement. Step inside the flight zone, and you will get movement going away from you. Flight zones have what is called a "Point of Balance," which is the point that influences where an animal can move according to the "pressure" applied to it. A bovine's point of balance is usually at the shoulder, especially in confined spaces, and is determined by the animal's wide-angle vision. However, the point of balance in an open-pen or pasture may not be at the shoulder, but perhaps at the eye, the neck, or even the side. There is no average distance of flight zone an animal. Each flight zone depends on how "tame" an animal is, and how calm or excited the animal is. Flight zone is always the largest around the head area, and smallest around the hips. Applying pressure behind the point of balance will always make an animal move forward. Applying pressure in front of the point of balance will always make the animal move backwards. Applying pressure directly to the right of the animal's shoulder will make him move right, and the same if you move at a 90 degree angle to the animal's left shoulder.
To make an animal stop, stop walking when you are past the point of balance and when the animal feels you are out of its flight zone. To move only one animal, stop walking when the point of balance of that animal is crossed. Remember to stay calm.
Moving cattle in pasture
Walk out to the herd of cattle that are in a pasture or corral. Be relaxed and calm as you do so, and make sure you are in the frame of mind where you can handle and herd the cattle as calmly as you can.
Do the necessary preparations. Be prepared ahead of time before you start herding them to the designated area. Open the gates you want the cattle to go through and close any gates that you wish the cattle to not go through.
Get the cattle into a loose herd. Start by moving in a zigzag movement to get them in a loose herd, working from the rear of the herd. Do not circle around the cattle. Apply pressure from the outside edges of the herd or the collective flight zone, to move the cattle into a loose bunch. You can induce the rear animals to start moving by giving them a "predatory" stare, simulating the stalking movement of a predator sizing up the herd. Don't linger too long in an animal's blind spot though, otherwise it will turn around and look at you. Take your time, as you may need to make large movements according to how large the pasture is and how far out the cattle are spread out. This initial step may take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes long. Don't go after loose stragglers, as they will be drawn out of the woods or are off to one side will be drawn to the herd. And don't bunch them up to quickly, as you only want them to be slightly anxious about your behaviour and not take off suddenly in fear and flight. Anxiety always comes before fear and flight.
Move them where you want them to go. To start initiating movement in the direction you wish them to go, apply pressure to the collective flight zone. Continue the zigzag movement, but press closer into the herd, moving perpendicular to the direction that the herd is supposed to go. Once the herd is moving in the desired direction, it will be a bit easier to keep them moving. Animals will always start wavering or circling away from the desired direction, just so they can locate where you, the handler, are. This is a natural anti-predatory behaviour, as they always want to know where the predator is and what its intentions are. This may occur if the handler (or predator) is in their blind spot. So, to keep this circling behaviour from happening, or to correct them and maintain them in the same direction they need to go, do not remain, even momentarily, in any animal's blind spot. Immediately stop or change the movement they are going as a means to relieve pressure and reward the animals for moving forward.
Move through the gate. When you reach the gate, stand near the entrance of the gate (not right in front or right after it), and move forwards and backwards to control the movement of animals through the gate. Moving forwards will stop movement, and moving backwards will relieve pressure and allow animals to move through the gate.