By Michelle Kunjappu, published in Farmshine Aug. 24, 2018
LOGANTON, Pa. — During the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania Summer Summit in August 2018, Curt Pate, known as ‘the cow whisperer’, brought back his cow-moving, handling, and stockmanship demonstration for an encore performance. Over 100 dairy producers attended the Summit, some with their employees.
The host farm for the Summit was Schrack Farms, Loganton. Two years ago, Pate was featured at the 2016 Summer Summit, hosted that year by Dotterer’s Dairy, Mill Hall. For the past three years, PDMP has offered hands-on Summer Summit content that satisfies elements of Beef Quality Assurance and various dairy animal care program certifications.
“Today, there are not as many of us working daily with animals so we need to think about reading them, being observant, and understanding what our interactions are creating and not creating,” said Pate. “We’ve really been stockmen for forever, and I find it interesting how it’s still fresh, it’s still interesting, we’re still learning, and in our world, I think we’re missing a big portion of stockmanship.”
Pate explained that stockmen “get pretty good at handling that team and making sure they have the right feed and everything they need.”
And yet, it’s not the cow that we’re working with, but really the brain of the cow, when it comes to getting the animal to decide to do something rather than forcing it to do something.
“The way the brain works, a lot of people will talk about fight or flight or predator-prey,” said Pate. “But this cow, she doesn’t have much of a flight zone. She’s not going to fly, she’s going to hook you. When you do the wrong thing with her she gets aggravated. Younger cattle, if they get aggravated, they’ll run away from you, for a little while.”
Pate explained the “thinking” and “reacting” sides of the cow’s brain. “When an animal is on the thinking side of their brain, they’re content, not hot, have all feed they need, this life is good in here. So this is contentment,” he said, gesturing toward the cows behind him, assembled for the cow-handling demonstration.
“Even though we’re all sitting in here, they’re not afraid, These animals are thinking about laying in their bed, going to the bunk, getting next to somebody they feel comfortable with,” he said.
Calling this the “growth” or “thinking” side of the brain, Pate said that when an animal is on the thinking side of the brain, she’s recovering she’s creating milk (or in the case of dairy heifers or feedlot steers, “growing”)
Pate explained the other side of the brain as the “survival” or “reaction” side of the brain.
“Sometimes when the human steps in and puts on the wrong kind of pressure, we can switch the brain from growth to survival, which I call shrink, or cost,” he said, explaining that human intervention has a lot to do with this.
“If I want to produce more, I have to back off and get her back into the growth state,” Pate stressed. “A good stockman is always looking to see where his animals are. Train your eye to always be seeing contentment in these cows. When you see contentment you’re going to see production.”
Pate went on to emphasize that a stockman’s primary tool is his vision.
“The main communication we have with a cow is through vision,” he said. “The cow wants to see you, and she’d like to see you with two eyes. They have depth perception, they feel comfortable, and these dairy cattle, from the day of birth, they see humans come to them with two eyes. We don’t get behind them very much until they’re about six months old. We really start to change things.”
As he moved through the cattle and focused on one, he noted: “It’s really hard to get much done in the front of the cow, to do much from the front. (When I’m) close to the front, I’m still in focus.
“As I start to step back towards her tail, now you’ll see she starts turning her head to see me, and now she wants to see me with two eyes,” he demonstrated.
“As I step into her, now watch her ears. As I get right behind her tail over here, she doesn’t like that at all, she doesn’t like me there. So the further I come forward, the more the cow likes me. Where can we be on that cow to create the right pressure so she can be comfortable and not aggravated at me and so I can move her to where I need her to go?” he quizzed the group.
Pate noted that, “Noise can be helpful. Touch can be helpful as well. Talking to an animal or making rasping noises, those are okay.
“But yelling creates fear in the whole herd.”
Describing three kinds of pressure, Pate demonstrated them.
With driving pressure, he said, it’s better to work the cow from the ear, rather than from tail.
“When you pressure her at her tail, you’re driving the cow crooked,” he said. “When you’re pressuring her at her ears you’re pulling the cow forward. We should probably move our pressure for driving the animal from the pressure, forward. Driving the animal forward with her ear rather than her tail.”
The second type of pressure is drawing pressure, like using a bucket of grain to move a cow.
“I can use this behavior of the animal wanting to see me with her two eyes as well to draw her in, move her,” said Pate.
“By stepping forward on her eye, she’s going to turn and look at me with two eyes,” he demonstrated, “and that causes her to stop her feet. I can create a better steering wheel if
I understand the different positions I need to be in to get her to do what I want.”
The third pressure Pate explained and demonstrated is maintaining pressure.
“With this, I’m not trying to drive her or to draw her, I just want to keep her mind on me. Just enough to make the cow move, but not forget me either.”
Pate’s workshops are a highlight for dairymen and cattlemen. Cow handling workshops like this also provide employee training benefits that dairy farms will need in the newer updated versions of the F.A.R.M. program.
The Pennsylvania Beef Council sponsored the cow whisperer’s workshop during the PDMP Summer Summit as it is also a qualifier for Beef Quality Assurance Certification, which shares many animal care and handling principles with F.A.R.M.