Livestock handling is all about animal behavior, according to Ed Fryer, who has managed Castle Mountain Ranch near White Sulpher Springs, Mont., since 1998 with his wife, Bev.
Ed and Bev are now mostly retired, and their eldest son, David, now manages the ranch.
Through the years, Ed and David became well known and well respected for low-stress livestock handling techniques.
In fact, for several years, they volunteered to demonstrate their techniques as part of the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program in Montana.
“The goal was to demonstrate simple low-stress solutions to common livestock handling tasks,” Ed Fryer said.
That portion of the program always received undivided attention and was well received by those in attendance.
“Humans, horses, cattle – it’s all animal behavior – and we’re no different than they are,” he said.
The basis of all animal training is reward training.
“It is about incentivizing a positive response somehow. It’s as simple as giving your dog a treat for doing the right thing,” he said. “With training horses, it is a system of pressure and release. You apply subtle pressure to get a response, followed by prompt release of pressure when you get even the slightest response in the desired direction. And it’s the same with cattle.”
Part of low-stress cattle handling is having a calm approach, letting the cow do the work, and setting up situations where both the handler and the cow have a high probability of succeeding.
One important concept that Fryer always brought up when they were conducting their BQA training was that there is a cumulative effect.
“If we do a poor job of handling a particular cow, the cow is going to remember what she got away with the first time,” he said.
When ranchers handle cattle consistently, cows begin to accumulate a body of learned behavior in either a positive or negative direction.
“It is up to us to set that direction in our favor. Everybody wins by doing it right,” he said.
There are certain situations that are difficult for cattle, and ranchers can take the time to evaluate the situation and make facility or other modifications to reduce difficult challenges. In these cases, it is okay to move the target.
“All we’re trying to promote (to livestock handlers) is to use our heads, realizing sometimes slowing down one facet can speed up the whole project, and to learn to set up situations where we have a very high probability of succeeding,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re in the right spot and are able to adjust our position quickly enough.”
One example Fryer gives shows the difficulty of moving heifers into a calving shed if the heifers perceive a scary situation with the layout.
“The layout was such that we had to put all the cattle through a back door with a shadowy dark spot that they really didn’t like to go into,” he said.
The crew built a simple lane on the opposite end of the shed to eliminate the need to go through that shadow.
“All we did was switch up the approach to the shed with some very simple construction,” he said. “It didn’t take us but two afternoons and a little bit of materials to switch it 180 degrees, and now one person can quite easily get a cow into the shed with almost zero stress.”
Fryer learned a lot about cattle handling as a crew member on a remote cattle ranch.
“The most proficient crew members became mentors to the younger crew members, with coaching often very blunt and direct,” he said.
That coaching, along with exposure to more modern horsemanship methods that were becoming popular in the ’70s, helped Fryer develop many skills that proved useful to him in years to come – and not only with livestock.
Fryer gives two examples of his mentors’ “blunt direction” that helped set the course for future professional development.
The first occurred while Fryer was a teen-ager on a summer branding crew for a “tough” cowboy outfit.
Yearlings were “mixed up” in the pasture, so the cowboys held the cattle up in a corner so the boss could sort them into their respective groups.
“I was assigned as a herd holder to assist in keeping the cattle together. My horse was barely trained, just like everybody else’s horse. I got bucked off a couple of times and I started complaining to the boss about the horse,” he said. “The boss finally told me to ‘shut up and make sure I was doing my job to the best of my ability, and the horse part would take care of itself.’ It worked, and I never forgot about it.”
Another example occurred while Fryer was in his early 20s.
Fryer and another young cowboy named George were sent out from a cow camp to search for calves, along with Sam, an older cowboy approaching 60-years-old.
It was winter, bitter cold, with a foot of snow on the ground.
“We had to ride several miles into rough country and look for some calves, weaned calves that a hunter had reported seeing,” he recalled.
The cowboys found the calves and started back to camp.
“We came to this little creek about 18 inches wide, two feet deep, drifted over with snow, and the calves didn’t want to cross it,” he said.
While the creek was invisible to the eye, both the calves and the horses knew it was there.
“You can hear the water gurgling down there and it was one of those oxbow-type creeks, so we had them trapped in one of the oxbows. These calves would not cross,” he said.
Fryer and George decided they needed to make a track for the calves to follow.
“We rode our horses back and forth across (the creek) two or three times, while Sam guarded the narrow entrance and watched,” he said. “The calves were not trying to get away, so we younger fellows were thinking that we had better just rope them and drag them across. But there were too many calves and we knew we couldn’t rope them all.”
Meanwhile, Sam said to the young cowboys, “You want to smoke?”
Since we had spent some years on the same crew, he knew we didn’t smoke.
“Sam looked at us in a direct and unmistakable way and said, ‘You guys would be a hell of a lot better hands if you at least had to stop and smoke once in a while,’” he said.
Meanwhile, the sun was sinking, and Fryer and George were getting nervous.
“George and I were tightening our cinches getting ready to rope, and while all this is going on, the calves are standing there watching us.” he said. “We had no choice but to sit on our horses and talk while Sam was smoking. Finally, those calves must have decided they were going to have to go somewhere, because all of a sudden, they just turned around and hopped across the creek and headed out towards where we wanted them to go all along.”
That taught Fryer a lot about low-stress cattle handling.
“We did not need to rope and drag them across. We just presented the option in a different way to get them to do what we wanted them to do,” he said. “Eventually, those calves decided, all on their own, that our horse tracks didn’t look so bad. They just followed our horses’ tracks, hopped across the little creek and away they went.”
That stuck in Fryer’s mind and he began to build on his cowboy skills.
Fryer has spent a lifetime on ranches in Montana and Wyoming, and he believes low-stress cattle handling is a way of handling cattle that leads to success for both cattle and hands.
The Legacy of the Ranch…
Where do you see your ranching enterprise in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years 100 years. The actions you take today will basically – dictate to what your ranch will be in the future.
- More Brains put together to find more Ideas to create more Solutions.
By Utilizing the cumulative Brains around you – You will have the resources to create a reality of where your operations are at and where you would like it to be.
Working hand in hand with our resources – we will create a vision and work to fulfill it through a focused effort. Your land will become a healthy vibrant ecosystem capable of sustaining wildlife and livestock beyond expectations.
You are an Investor – The land that you own will appreciate as it is – 1% to 3% per year. There will be some bumps along the way, but your investment will continue to grow Even if you do absolutely Nothing with it.
- What if you make a commitment to make it better – Increase the grasses and the waters. What if your Land can be developed to KEEP more of the moisture in it and have less runoff.
Partnerships – We offer to run your ranch land in this manner. Through Planned Timed Management Grazing and strategic placement of Water and Fences – Your Investment will have the opportunity to grow beyond your expectations.
Long Term Focused Commitment – is the Key to your operation being successful. We will enter into an agreement to LEASE your ranch and run it as if it were our own – To Grow and develop it to achieve optimal production by utilizing the Sunlight and Water along with professional stockmanship. This will develop more Grass which results in more Water staying on the place resulting in healthier soils and productive plants.
A Board of the best and brightest will be asked to make recommendations and be a part of developing the overall plan for the Land. Grass specialists and Master Stockmen will give input, as to how to operate the enterprise.
– Full Circle –
As Western Livestock & Grows grows – we are going to take on the next challenge.
- The Next Generation of Ranchers – Our Youth.
Getting into (and getting out of) the ranching business is a challenge. Our average operator age is getting up to where most people are retiring. In addition, the capital cost of getting into ranching far exceeds the financial resources that a ranch can provide.
How do we work to overcome these obstacles?
Western Livestock & Grass – will take on the challenge of finding qualified young persons to take on the LEGACY of your ranch. As we lease more ranches, we will become the mentor that is needed to develop our young ranchers.
- We will take on the responsibility of making sure your ranch is being run right.
- We will also take on the responsibility that the next generation of ranchers is being prepared to take on the challenges of this industry.
IF THIS IS something that you would like to take part in. Give me a call. We can cover the details and determine a plan that will work for ALL of us.
Give me a call – 307.331.0357
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
A Professional Ranch Leasing Service
Kit West – CEO Western Livestock & Grass
Download and read this PDF. Even though it looks like its only subject is Art – Read Deeper, Read between the lines. It APPLYs to you.
That’s not what I said.
That’s not what I meant.
You took it the wrong way.
Why can’t you see things from my point of view?
What I was trying to say was…
In any meaningful conversation, where what’s said and what’s heard is equally important on all sides, the truth is rarely heard simply as stated. Usually, there’s what someone says and then there’s what someone hears. It’s a miracle that we don’t miscommunicate more.
In all honesty, language and conversation is something we take for granted. But in these turbulent, divisive and also promising times, communication is of vital importance. Those who can engage someone empathetically, showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another, can create bridges that sow divides and create thriving communities.
But you have to care.
You have to believe in something bigger than yourself or any one person or thing.
The vision and meaning of togetherness must carry greater purpose and prominence collectively…for all.
The difference between utterance and discernment, after all these centuries of communicating with one another, still leaves much to be desired. Dialogue is so much more complicated than speaking and listening. The distance between the two is separated by an incredible array of everyday obstructions: cognitive biases, experiences, emotions, and self-centeredness on every side.
The art and science of language and communication are just that…art and science. Expression and significance are often left to the senses of the beholder, regardless of intent.
Let’s appreciate that the coalescence of thoughts, ideas, and purpose create a complex stream that’s truly unique to each person. Someone has to take the first step. Someone has to see the bigger picture. Someone has to understand the other…first.
Regardless of what is or what should be and why, most times, other people aren’t going to take the first step. But that’s the true opportunity for empathetic leadership.
Don’t just try to get closer.
Don’t just listen.
Don’t just repeat what you head back to someone.
Don’t just feel sorry for someone…that’s sympathy, not empathy.
Empathetic leadership is just that…leading the way by taking steps toward someone and somewhere else. Become a bridgebuilder.
Listen and commit your undivided attention to the conversation.
Refrain from judgment and assumptions.
Consider different perspectives and angles.
Seek common ground.
Acknowledge another’s feelings and show emotional support (EQ=emotional intelligence)
Relate – show care and concern.
Mirror someone’s form of communication and nonverbal signals.
Empathetic leadership is a skill and a competitive advantage. In a world seemingly rife with divisiveness, fear, and confusion, this is exactly what the world needs more of right now…engagement, harmony, and community.
Take the first step.