Pretty soon the grass will be jumping and I will be busier than a one-legged man at a butt-kicking contest. Forty-four miles of perimeter fence and 38 miles of electric cross fence to check and repair. Water pumps, electric fencers, mineral tubs, posts, wire, a chainsaw, and my summer cologne — a mix of bug spray and sun block. I know spring is just around the corner.
If you did not already know, I’m a custom grazier. The cattle are booked and my grazing plans are done. It will soon be time to train a new set of yearlings for my grazing season. The quicker I can get them trained, the easier my job is. It does not happen with every herd but if possible, I like to get the animals in early and feed for at least a week. This allows me to get them well trained to electric fence and well trained to love me. With custom animals coming in, you never know what you are getting. This also spreads out the spring rush a bit. Instead of having all my herds arrive and need training on the same week when the grass is ready, I can spread this out over a month and train one herd at a time.
I have learned from my mistakes and now when I am receiving a new set of yearlings, there are certain steps that I like to follow. Cow-calf pairs are another story.
Let me run you through a typical day when receiving grass cattle. I try to plan to have access to the loading chute rain or shine. My advantage is heavy-duty, self-standing portable panels. I can set up a strong corral system just about anywhere. I try to set it up close enough that if the trucks can’t get into the pasture because of rain, we can still unload off the road by adding a few more panels.
Once the cattle have settled down in the coral, I can move them into the training area. You will know when they have settled when they are content and some may be lying down
The training area is a very visible pen with an electric wire around the perimeter. It could be a barbed wire fence with a hot wire offset, or a three- or four-wire electric fence. In many cases it is just one of my watering areas. It just has to be strong and highly visible.
Inside the training area, I like to have water and a bale or two to give them something to eat. I let them into this about 50 at a time. This way they all have plenty of room to explore and be “educated” to the electric fence and not bunch up.
In this pen I will introduce them to my training cans. I attach empty aluminum pop cans to the wire around the training pen to help speed up this “education.” You punch a hole in the bottom of the can and run a wire through it. The wire and can is then attached to the electric fence. This makes a shiny object that moves with the wind that just begs the livestock to sniff.
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In some cases I have a one-wire educational fence inside the training pen as well. This is a strong one-wire electric fence similar to the cross fences they will see out in the pasture. It dead-ends so they can get around it within the training pen. They just learn they can’t go through it and to visually recognize it. I may put coloured ribbon on this fence and on the electric fence in the pasture if I am concerned that the pasture fence is not very visible.
I get credit as the “good guy” by calling the cattle into the training pen to food and water. They have been on a truck for a few hours and are hungry and thirsty. This is the first step to getting my girls to fall in love with me. It works best if I can leave them in the training pen for at least an hour.
From there the group is moved into the first grazing paddock or the paddock with bale grazing. Here they see the typical electric cross fence that they will deal with during the grazing season. I like to have the cross fence lead out away from the gate. This way when I open the gate and call them out, they run parallel to the electric fence. They have a better view of it and are less likely to go through it. If you turn them out and the electric fence is perpendicular to how they are running, the first few see it but the cattle running behind blow right through.
The first paddock might have two wires but after that, I only use one-wire fences. If I can strip graze down the first paddock, this helps the cattle quiet down and get used to the fact that I am the hand that feeds them. I call them every time I move the fence to get them familiar with my call. One day of moving them every couple of hours sure makes less work for the next few months. They learn quickly to come when I call.
The sooner they fall in love with me, the easier my job is. Within a week of the cattle arriving, I am able to pull them out of any area with just one unit of labour by calling. This comes in handy when a gate gets left open by quaders and the cattle are in the neighbour’s wheat field. It happens sometimes. I’m like the pied piper, they love me.
During the next few weeks I also train them to the sound of the horn as well because later on they get into some larger paddocks and the horn is easier on my vocal cords. Best wishes.
Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta., www.greenerpasturesranching.com, 780-307-6500, email [email protected]