It’s important we talk about corral work for the simple reason of that’s where we spend a lot of time with our livestock, and it’s often a stressful time for both animals and humans. Also, it’s unfortunately a great place to hurt performance and to teach our cattle that being in a herd is a bad place to be, which has negative ramifications for gathering, driving and settling cattle together as a herd.
Conventionally, people often have to force their cattle into the corral because it’s someplace they don’t want to be because of the treatment they’ve received there in the past—or so we think—and they have them in such an uncooperative mood they make the whole day difficult for them. But, of course, we don’t understand that it’s of our own doing and, instead, blame and curse our miserable old cows.
Bud Williams makes the important but generally unrecognized point that corral work begins long before we get them in the corral, and if we bring them in poorly by not using good technique and violate any of our principles, they’re going to be uncooperative because their minds are going to be on going back.
Entering a corral
Bud makes another important point: Cattle aren’t afraid of the corral. It’s how we bring them in; it’s what we do to them before we even get there that matters to them. And if we bring them in properly we might find that we can leave the gate open, and they won’t leave because they’ll be content being in there.
As far as driving cattle into a corral, one effective way is to have the riders zigzag in a T to the gate (discussed in prior articles), and have someone stationed near the gate to ride reverse-parallel as the animals get close. This simple technique gets the all-important mind change in the animals of wanting to go into the corral to get past the rider, hence making our idea their idea (see Figure A).
When doing the reverse-parallel technique when entering a pen, it’s important for the rider to focus on the lead animals and not go too far down the side. The objective is to keep the lead going which will draw the rest. Also, when the rider returns to the front to repeat the technique if necessary, they need to take a wide birth so they don’t slow the animals with what would be a forward-parallel movement (see Figure B).
Once in the corral
To make corral work as less stressful an experience as possible on the cattle, we cannot overcrowd them. Cattle don’t like being crowded any more than we do. So it’s little wonder those that have been overcrowded in the past might resist coming into a corral, and why they will be difficult to work once we get them in.
Then, once we begin to work the animals it’s imperative we use proper technique.
Emptying a pen from the back
Conventionally, everybody wants to go in and get behind the animals and drive them out. This is a viable approach as long as we do it correctly, and one way to do that is to get behind the animals and zigzag in a T to the gate, just as we do when bringing cattle into a corral (see Figure C).
Emptying a pen from the front
A disadvantage of going to the back of the pen is the first thing that happens when we walk into a pen is every animal wants to see us. So, if we go to the back we’re turning them away from the gate because they’re looking at us. Also, when people go in a pen and circle around behind, the animals don’t like that because it’s predatorial.
So there are advantages to emptying a pen from the front, but working between the cows and where we want them to go is very foreign to most people.
Bud Williams stated “I generally work between the cattle and where I want them to go.” Why? Because it obeys our principles, in particular these three:
- Animals want to see what’s pressuring them.
- They want to see where you want them to go.
- They want to go by you or around you.
So if we want to have those principles work for us, where should we be? We should be between the animals and the gate. From there we can walk directly into the animals so they split around us and out the gate. This works especially well in a smaller corral with a lot of cattle (see Figure D). We can also work the front and side to start lead animals toward the gate which draws the rest.
There are two other advantages to emptying a pen from the front: (1) We can control the speed of movement from the front with the reverse- and forward-parallel techniques; and (b) we’re in a position to take only the number we want, or count them, or do a health check (neither of which can be done from the back).
Getting cattle out of a corner
If cattle are in a corner but close to the gate, what people usually do is go in behind them and drive them out, but that turns the lead out because the animals want to keep us, the source of pressure, in their sight.
What we should do is pressure the cattle into the corner at a 45-degree angle and back out. We pressure in to create movement, but then we have to back out for two reasons: (1) so we can pressure in again, if necessary, and (2) so we can guide them (see Figure E).