Moving cattle is one of the topics David Zirnhelt discusses in this week’s column. Here cattle graze at Spring House earlier this week. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo.

OPINION: Stockmanship: a new way of handling livestock

Columnist David Zirnhelt talks about an upcoming workshop at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake campus.

David Zirnhelt

Special to the Tribune/Advisor

There have been a lot of horse trainers over past decades travelling this continent and others with a “whispering” kind of school of thinking.

On October 4, 5 and 6, one such professional, Curt Pate from the U.S., will be putting on a clinic for the Thompson Rivers University Sustainable Ranching Program students at the Williams Lake Stampede Grounds.

Curt will instruct the students and observers on handling horses and cattle on foot and on horseback.

A second presenter, Gord Colliar from the pharmaceutical company Zoetis, will talk to the students and others on vaccine handling, processing and protocols.

Gord has been sponsoring tours by Curt around Canada. I have read Curt’s blogs about his trips to Mexico, all around the U.S., Hawaii and Australia.

He is in high demand to show stockmen and women the ins and outs of low stress stockmanship.

I first saw Curt at the local stockyards when the regional 4-H Council had him talk to 4-H members and the general ranching community. The place was packed because his reputation preceded him.

Two things I remember were his roping a calf which was about to become a 4-H project and a statement he made about attitude and livestock handling.

He proceeded to begin halter training the calf which once roped around the neck, was then secured with a makeshift halter devised by Curt throwing a loop in the rope and chasing it down to the calf’s head with a flick of the wrist and over the nose, kind of a half hitch.

At no time did he have to get close and frighten the calf.

The second thing I remember was him talking about the old style of handling stock, horses and cattle.

This old school would have handlers “drive” cattle by frightening them to move along the trail, causing stress. Stress is now widely considered to create unhealthy responses from livestock and make them susceptible to disease, or slow down growth.

We all know excited animals can create havoc with people and fences. Slower is better.

He told the audience of children, women and men that rough handling teaches the animals to be rough. This old method created the need for tough people, usually men, to control and handle this kind of stock.

Rough handling is not safe for anyone.

Low stress stockmanship which Curt teaches, is seen to be the superior method, good for the facilities, good for the livestock and good for the stock handlers.

“Whispering” trumps yelling, so it seems.

Children and women can equally handle livestock “trained” in this way.

I hope to take my granddaughter to be a student of Curt’s school.

Nothing could be better than to learn stockmanship from one of the great teachers.

About quiet handling of livestock, one of the greats of old, (now deceased) Bud Williams is reputed to have said to someone who asked him how loud can you speak to cattle when moving them.

Bud said, “If the cow next to the one you are talking to can hear you, it is too loud!”

By the way, Bud’s wife and daughter still offer stockmanship and marketing workshops.

They can show you how to load cattle into a trailer out in the middle of a pasture with no alleys, just maybe a good cow dog.

The TRU students and a few other cowboys will be actually working at this clinic. The public is invited to watch. For more information call the TRU’s program manager, Gillian Watt at 1-250-319-2367.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake in January of 2016.

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