Building trust while working with livestock, part 2

In Part 1 of Building Trust while Working with Livestock, Bud Williams outlined the situation in livestock handling today, the difficulties of change, the benefits of change, and the attitudes and beliefs that are involved in shifting from a high-stress, forceful approach to low-stress, nonviolent methods. In Part 1 he also began to describe the principles of good stockmanship, beginning with the need to move in straight lines.

The principle of pressure/release

Every single person I've ever been around does this (to me) backwards. Whenever you pressure an animal (or a group of animals) enough to move it, then you can move it with less pressure, so you should release that pressure a little bit, and get to a point where it's comfortable with you pressuring it the amount you are to keep it moving.

If you're doing it properly it should take more pressure to start it than it does to keep it moving. Because of the way we work animals, we keep pushing and pushing, pretty soon we're right up there shoving on them all the time. When we started them, we may have been 100 feet away, and before we get to where we're going, we're right up shove shove shove. It's because we don't release that pressure.

We were in Wyoming, and this guy had 700 cow-calf pairs. They wanted to move these quite a little ways. We drove them for 6 or 7 hours after we gathered them up. When we were gathering these up, they told me that there were 700 black cows, and one black baldy. They had missed her when they shipped, because they were breeding to Hereford bulls, but they did end up with one black baldy. They said she's the most miserable thing, we kind of raised her around, and you can't drive her, you're just pushing on her all the time.

So we gathered these up, and there's 6 or 8 people there with me, and I'm pretty well doing the work, trying to show them things. Here's this black baldy right on the back end. So I go over, and I just pressure and she starts going, and I turn. She goes a couple steps, I go over here, and she stops. They say, well you see what you got. I said, yeah, but that's because of what I did. I said I want to show you something.

So now I'm over here and I move these, and I aim right at the side of this cow. I'm just riding a horse right toward her. When she moves ahead, I just stop the instant she takes a couple steps. I move over here. She goes up a ways, and she stops. I turn toward her, and now I'm 50 foot away, she starts moving. I turn back. We drove those cows for 6 hours and never was she on the back. That's what I'm talking about.

Were you increasing her flight zone?

You're increasing her flight zone, but what you did, you made her realize that you were not going to pressure her and keep that on. What happens with a cow like that, is, you train them to be hard to drive. You push this cow, and then you go to get these so she can stop. Every time you go to leave her, she stops. She realizes that she can wait till you come back to push her again.

When you can pressure her to where she has to move, and then you take that pressure off, now when you start from over here, pretty soon when you're 100 feet away and you start toward her, she just knows to move.

Eunice: Then her mind is on seeing those other cattle going and she wants to follow them. So you haven't distracted her, and made her try to fight you.

Bud: Many many times we get a group of cows going. We're in the mountains, to keep them from going on trails, we're maybe in front of them to turn them at a fork of the road or something like that. Then there's nothing bringing them. Their movement will keep them going. You start pushing on them, and then you got to push them all the way. This is what I'm trying to get at. It's because we won't release that pressure.

Whenever you pressure an animal to move, you should release that pressure. You can release it by hesitating for an instant and letting it move on. You can go on across to take it off, or you can go back. Once you reward that animal, by taking the pressure off, they will willingly go where you want. If you keep that pressure on and keep increasing it, they will fight you every step of the way.

We were at this one place and they were moving their cows every five or six days. They had 400 cow-calf pairs in this group. Their pastures were thousand-acre pastures, it was rough country and very sparse grass, and they were just moving them along like this. The bulls were staying behind.

The cowboys said, there's this one bull, he'll just back into the brush and you can't do anything with him. Is there anything you can do? Well, yeah, sure. You can handle any of these situations. We loaded a couple horses in a horse trailer and we drive to this place. And we're going down this kind of a jeep trail, and this guy says, there's one of the bulls. Now he's four pastures behind. Usually your cows don't get bred up if your bulls are four pastures behind, they're trying to get him up to where the cows are at.

We start riding over there. This bull is just grazing out there, and when I ride across--we'll say that table there is the bull--we ride across like this. I don't know the cattle, I've never been there before, so I'm probably 100 or 150 foot away, and I'm paying attention. I just turn back like that [not moving directly at the bull]. Pretty soon we get in to about 50 feet. And he turns and just starts to wander off. And I just stop. And I let him go for about 8 or 10 steps. And then I start coming on. There's areas there where you've got to be in behind, there's brush and a lot of trail. Where I could, I'd be out a little bit to the side. If he stopped, I'd stop instantly. Then I'd let him have a few seconds, then I'd start going like this, and he'd start going again. We drove that bull for almost 3 miles, and not once did he go in the brush, or do any of those things. We never crowded him. He walked right along. It didn't take very long to get him there. The thing of it was, the minute you started to push that thing, he went in the brush and whirled around and said come on.

You're driving a cow herd, you're going to get the same reaction, in a sense. We teach them to be hard to drive. You must release that pressure. You pressure an animal, you must release that pressure--either by letting that animal move away, or by you moving away.

Usually a cow herd that I never worked with, within two or three hours they are working for me to where they're just a dream to handle. They respond very fast. If I'm going to go to somebody's place and sort some cows and calves or something, I might spend five minutes working with those cows before I go to sort them. That's enough for me to get to where they'll work for me.

It's like the guys who are really good with horses, the Ray Hunts, they can do things with horses so fast, because they do the right thing always. When you learn to do the right thing, and very little of the wrong thing, you'll find out that cows that you've never seen before, never worked with before, still respond very positively, very quickly.

If you were in this room, and these walls started to come in, at some point everybody in this room would panic. Absolutely. We'll say that those walls start to come in, and at some point a person said, well they just come in so far and then they stop. When they started getting close to that you'd still be a little bit nervous, but then when they stopped you could kind of relax. What you have learned is to take the pressure of those walls coming in, knowing that they're only going to come so far.

We take an animal and it's out in a big pasture. We start driving that animal in. Alright, we're pressuring that animal to bring it in. It comes in to a corral--these walls are coming in. It goes to a smaller corral--they're coming in pretty fast. It goes into a smaller pen, people are crowding it. It goes into that single file chute, and by that time it's in such a panic it probably doesn't even know if that chute's coming or what.

But when you take that animal out in a pasture, and you drive it what I consider properly, you teach that animal to take pressure, and you move away, it's a pressure release, you get into the corral, it has been taught to take pressure. The walls have come in. You move them to the next corral from the front, you move them where they can see you, they go into that, the walls have come in but they're starting to trust you, or they trust you already. By the time they go into that chute, it's not a big deal.

An animal's pain tolerance is so high, that the shots we give them and those things, really doesn't hurt them. I have seen animals with a broken leg, and grazing, just like it didn't even hurt.

That is not why animals don't go through a chute, because they're afraid of what's happened to them. Animals don't go through a chute because of what we do to them before they get to that chute. It isn't that they remember what was done to them at the squeeze chute. They remember this pressure they got. They're already crazy before they get to the squeeze chute.

Everybody that I work with seems to think that what you do in a corral has no relation to what you do out here.

We've taken a herd animal, and over the years we've made a herd a bad place to be. Every time they got bunched up, they were jammed into a corral, things done to them, harassed, and it go so they didn't particularly want to be in a herd, even though they're a herd animal. We've got to create that herd to where that's a good place to be, a safe place to be. You've not going to do that if you keep jamming them in and doing this to them all day.

One of the big problems we have is we go out into a field and we start driving some animals. They're going nice for us, and we get up close to a gate or something like that and it all falls apart. The reason it falls apart? We didn't teach them to take pressure before we got there, and so that pressure is too much.

I'll come to a bluff or a river or something that they don't want to cross. Now I've got something to teach them to take pressure. Say I just come up to a big bluff. They move up toward that bluff, they start to feel pressure between me and this here. As soon as they start to feel that pressure, I turn and walk away. Then I come right back. I don't just leave the country. Now they're moving along, I pressure them against this again. As soon as they start to give any indication that this is starting to bother them I turn and walk away. Now I've taught them that when they get pressure, I will release it.

Now they will move in an orderly manner. I can control the direction. I can walk them right into a corral. This is what we need to do with our animals. When you are driving animals to go someplace, they must be taught these things before you get there. It's easy to do.

You turn animals by changing the angle that you work, and let those animals turn, instead of trying to ride up there and make them turn. Don't try to make them go just in the direction you want them to go to start them. Get a good movement going, then teach your animals to turn for you.

My dad told me when I was a little kid, you follow animals in the mountains until they're going in the direction you want before you start to drive them.

Pressure your animal, take the pressure off. Teach your animals to work for you. Don't ride along visiting with somebody about something that's got nothing to do with what you're doing, and finally wake up to the fact that they're not doing what you want.

If you got your cows going someplace, and they're going really good, and there's five riders, have four of them go back there and visit and one guy drive them--he'll pay attention. Don't have any more people doing it than what is paying attention. The minute you get more people than you need, they start visiting, and nobody's paying attention.

We're so keen to get those animals going, and get them strung out. We almost love for those in the lead to take off, because that's a help to us. We don't realize that pretty soon it's going to be hurting us. It's really crazy what we'll do to ourselves, personally, as long as we don't feel the pain until tomorrow, or next week. If we're driving a bunch of cows, the only thing we care is if we get them going fast. And then, damn, they're going too fast, what do we do with them. Don't do that.

If you start out in the front, you don't need to stay there forever. If you start out in the back, you don't have to be there for the rest of your life. In other words, you can have two people driving a good-sized herd of cattle. You can have one person in the lead and one person in the back. Or you can have both people in the lead, and a mutt dog in the back. Or you can have both people in the back, because you don't need anybody in the lead. If your animals are moving so good you need somebody in the lead, you sure don't need much behind.

Another big mistake people make is when they try to push the slow ones fast enough to keep up with the fast ones. That is a terrible mistake, and if you're going to do that, you're going to have problems as long as you have the cattle. When you have animals that are in the lead and going too fast, let them go in a big arc and come back to the ones in the back. Don't try to shove the back ones to keep up with the lead, ever. Because whenever you do that, you're going to have two bunches that are miserable. The ones in the back are going to get harder and harder to push, and the ones in the lead are going to go faster and faster to get away from them.

We've had situations where there's 500 animals and there's 50 that want to take off. We just take them in a big loop and circle and let them come back to the herd. We don't chase them, we don't head them off, we don't run them. We just let them come back to the herd. If you're not willing to do that, you're going to get to fight them forever.

The flight zone

Around an animal there's a flight zone. Now I almost hate to even bring this up. People come to one of these [schools], and then when I talk to them later, they talk flight zone about everything. Well, all you have to do is be aware of it. It's kind of like the weather. You can talk about it all day, or you can just go do things, and realize that you have it.

The flight zone is important to understand when you initially approach animals. After you've approached animals, and got them going, then that flight zone is so changeable. You can change it. The animal can change it.

Once you've started animals, then work on a pressure release. Whenever you pressure animals then you must release that pressure. Either by letting them move away from it, or you moving off. If you're working on pressure release, then you're working around the edge of the flight zone.

If you get into a corral, you may be inside the flight zone all the time, you may not be able to get out of the flight zone and still work the animal. So you work on pressure release and it's not a problem. An animal will stand you inside this, if it's for a very short length of time, and as long as it realizes that you pressure and you will move out.

It's not a thin line. When you approach animals, there's an area, that they start to feel pressure from you being there. As soon as they start to feel pressure from you moving toward them, then they start to react. This here can be 5 feet or 500 feet.

When you initially approach an animal, it does not like for you to go directly at it. If you are out in the mountains, and you're coming up toward a group of animals, if you will just ride in such a way that you would go on by, they will respond in a much more positive way than if you go directly at them. We don't like something coming directly at us.

Now you can come directly at them until you get here. Once you've got to there, then you should either go in this direction, or in this direction, in such a way that you're not going directly at them.

This table right here is the animal. Now I could be over here and as I get up to this animal, where I think I'm getting to it, all I've got to do is start walking this way. I'm getting closer and closer to it, but I'm not going directly at it. At some point I will get into this area right here, it will tell me I'm in there, now I know where to work. Where if I go directly at it, it may let me get way too close and wheel and run, or do all kinds of negative things. Now, you don't have to ride for a mile. You don't have to ride for half a mile. And even to exaggerate it, you could go one step thataway--I'm not going directly toward it. I could go one step thisaway--I'm not going directly toward it. I take one step thataway, and I'm going by it but I'm getting closer to it. All you need to do is just not go directly at it until it starts to move off. Then you could work that animal in a much more positive way.

A group of animals, the same way. You come up over, and there's a group of animals there, and you go directly at them, you tend to get a negative reaction. Sometimes it could be a very harmful negative reaction. If you would just ride across, you will tend to get a positive reaction. I've worked animals as wild as any of you guys will ever have to work with. I've worked in conditions that are as rough as any that you've ever had to work in, and I absolutely know this is so. Do not just go directly at them on the initial approach.

There's an area in here [directly in front] where animals can see you and tell how far away you are. There's an area right here [directly behind] where they can't see you at all. All of our domestic animals can see almost directly behind them. There's a very small area where they cannot see. Now that's the one area where they don't want you for any length of time, when you're exerting pressure on them. Now the only way you're exerting pressure on them is if you're in here.

Now, if you're going to drive animals from any distance, you're going to be behind them a lot. So there isn't any way that I'm saying to not be behind them. That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is this: don't be in the pressure area for any length of time. In other words, if you have a group of animals that's going along like this, or an individual animal, or anything like that, once you get in here, right directly behind them where it cannot see you, then get out of there. Move out, or move back. Stay where it can see you. If you can see its eye, it can see you. Now, some animals don't want you here, and other animals don't mind you being here. Every animal doesn't want you directly behind it for any length of time. Us included. We don't want something pressuring directly behind. You go down the freeway, and let a truck get up ten foot behind you and see how well you like it. You won't like it for very long.

They won't mind for a very short period of time. The wilder the animal, or the less trustful of you, the bigger this area will be. They can still see you, but they still don't trust you, because they see you're going in behind them, they don't want you there.


The reason that the herds of buffalo, herd of animals in Africa--the reason that they migrate and move like they do, is because of the numbers, not because of the predators and all these other things. The basic reason they move is because of the numbers. You have such large numbers, that that movement creates the movement that moves them. There's a herd of buffalo up here, like 4500 buffalo, and they don't go anywhere. They don't move down into the U.S. or anything like that. But if there were 30,000, they would.

They didn't move because they run out of feed. Cattle won't move just because they run out of feed. They may move when they run out of feed, but they won't move just because they do. The numbers is what tends to move them. Whenever you move any larger numbers of animals, then you have to be sure that that movement is gone, or it will start up again. Movement takes movement. Movement creates movement. Movement draws movement. That's what you have to be really paying attention to.

Whenever you go to do anything, even moving them into a corral, be sure that you have good movement. When you have good movement, then that other is not there so much. When you move animals to a place, and you have bad movement to get them there, then they have this burning desire to get away from there, and they create this movement just immediately, even though they're dog tired.

What's driving those animals is that the movement of this one is drawing this one, and that one is shoving this one. If you do anything that breaks that up, you have a problem.

If you go parallel to that movement you'll slow it down. If you go against that movement you'll speed it up.

How do you stop and place a herd?

I tell you what we do to move animals, and then what we do that stops movement. What you want to do is start doing some of these things that stop movement before you get to that place, so that movement starts to disappear. I tell you, if you ride up alongside of animals, you tend to stop that side, slow it down. If you go with movement you tend to slow it down. When you start getting close to this area, maybe a quarter of a mile from it, start riding up alongside of your cattle. Just ride up alongside. Turn out, go back down, ride up alongside again. Let them start slowing down. Don't ride up and then ride from the front to the back, because you'll speed them up again. Tell the people at the back end, or your dog or whatever, just tell them to come on with you. Let's just not drive them any longer. Just let them drift up there. So what if it takes two hours for them to drift that quarter of a mile.

There's two or three things you want to look for. One thing is that they have run out of movement themselves--that you're not stopping them. If you ride up and stop them, then they haven't run out of movement, and that movement will pick up and go someplace else. The other is, you stop and just watch them. If you have calves grazing in this direction, or cows, and when one starts to go, nothing else pulls in and starts running for it. If you do, then that movement's just going to go again. Really it's not that difficult to see it.

Working with dogs

I don't have very good dogs any more. They're very mediocre. I used to have good dogs, I mean excellent dogs. I do very little training. The better dogs I got, I found the less training I did, the better dogs I had. What you want is a dog that learns to work the stock, not a dog that learns a bunch of commands. Now, if you have a dog that learns to work the stock, then you can put a few a commands on, like you're a good boy, if you're tired you can lay down, it's time to eat supper. You can use those. It's okay.

But the others, I would suggest that you try not to use very many of them. I basically start with a young dog, and I use three commands. I tell it when to go--it's usually already gone, so I don't have to use that. I tell it when it's wrong, and I tell it when we're done. After I've worked with a dog for a little while, it knows when to go, so I don't use that one anymore. It doesn't do anything wrong, and it knows when we're done. I'm not joking about this.

Eunice and I worked in northern California in about as rough a mountain country as you'll find anywhere that they run stock. I would always have at least 12 to 15 dogs. We would go out to gather a bunch of cattle. I would start out with 8 or 900 head of yearlings, by myself. I'd have a dog in the back. I might be up in the lead because they're going to go too fast in the lead. I'd have a dog that would work the side. And we would go. We might go 8 or 10 miles, and when we got there we'd have all of them. The dog in the back was behind 8 or 900 head, and I don't see him from the time I leave till I get to the corral. The dog along the side I might see two or three times in all that time. What commands would you give that dog, so that it would keep the cattle in a bunch and going, and the other would bring them, and walking. I don't know. I never learned what commands you'd give them. And what command did you need?

Eunice and I would drive calves that averaged just under 400 pounds, they'd been weaned for probably two or three weeks, and we would drive them over this mountain. We had to drive them 18 or 20 miles. We'd start out first thing in the morning. Eunice would go in the lead. We'd go by road for 7 or 8 miles and then we'd go cross country. I would put a dog behind. I would ride and work the side, keep them from going on side trails, and keep another dog or two with me. I would not see this dog in the back for two hours at a time. When we got to the other side, we always had all the cattle, because we counted them. He never pushed them too much, he never left any. What commands would you have given him?

You don't need to teach a bunch of commands to have excellent working dogs. Now I have judged sheepdog trials. I do know what a sheepdog should do. I know what they expect from a trial dog and all of this. And if you want a trial dog, and you want to tell him every move to make, I couldn't care less. I will drive 100 miles to watch a good trial. I love to watch trial dogs work. I don't want one. I don't want one if you offer to give me one, but I love to watch them work.

But if you want a good working dog, a dog that will go out in the mountains and work stock like it should, I do not think that you need to have all of this command stuff on them. I don't think you need to tell a dog what to do.

Everybody that I've ever been around doesn't work stock right anyway. Why should they be telling the dog what to do? The dog should be telling them what to do. We've got that reversed.

You take calves that have been in a feedlot, fed a pretty high grain ration, and you put them out in the field, and you go out there with your dog, and you start laying your dog down and telling him to go here, go there, those calves will run him right out of the country. They love to. They'll take turns--30 or 40 will chase him for a while, and when they get tired, another 30 or 40 will take him. If you don't let that dog just gather them up and bring them, not running, just bring them on--boy they have fun. It doesn't matter how good your dog is.

Eunice: we've never had any trouble taking a cow dog--that has plenty of force--and take it right over and work sheep with it, and it never bites sheep. They learn to only do what is necessary to get the job done. If they have to bite a cow to turn her around, they'll bite her, but if she'll turn around without it, they won't bite. As soon as she turns, they back off.

Bud: We are fast losing the ability to have working dogs. Behind every bush there's some guy who's a hotshot dog trainer who's teaching people how to have a trial dog. There are very few trial dogs that I have any use for when you get out to doing stuff. I used to judge the sheepdog trials in northern California. I had one guy who showed his dog, and I knocked off half a point, which is unusual, that's all he lost, the dog was that good.

We went out to his place one day, and just up on the hill, he had 300 sheep in the 80-acre pasture. He sent three of his dogs to pen those sheep. That was the most horrible thing. One of them didn't do anything, the other two went down over the hill and he couldn't find them, and finally it started raining, and he and I put the sheep in the pen, and he said I'll lay my coat down here, I'll come back tonight, they'll be on my coat. We drove down around and looked over, and they had one old ewe bayed up over there, two dogs had her held over there on the hillside. We had 300 sheep out there, and they'd got one stopped down over the hill. They just weren't any good.

I've learned a tremendous amount about working livestock by watching a good dog work stock that wasn't being told how to work them.

Eunice: Watch in a minute. Bud doesn't call the dogs off. He'll walk away and the dogs will just pull off on their own and come.

Bud: Basically I go out with a young dog and I basically say bring them to me. I keep moving around. The only way he's going to get them to me when I keep moving around is by getting those corners. And boy do they learn it fast. If you stop the dog and tell him to get over, and go thither and go yonder--whenever you start using those things, then they don't learn how to work those corners to get them to come to you.

Understand that your first deal is to move around so the job works. This is the way I work a dog. I let them work more than anybody else does, and I let them work. If they're doing it a little bit wrong, I move around until they're right, and then we can go ahead. It's amazing how smart they get and how good they get.

I want to take a young dog out, and what I want to do is to have everything turn out good for that dog. If he goes out in the field, and I want him to go and bring them to me, and he starts chasing them away. I gallop my horse till I get in front of the cattle, now he's bringing them to me, and I tell him what a good dog he is. Or I can cuss him, rant and rave, and have him confused, and he hasn't got a clue what he's supposed to do.

If he goes out in the middle of the cattle and starts chasing one, when he stops and looks at me, he knows he's wrong. But if he says, didn't I do a good job? Yeah, he did a good job, wasn't what I wanted you to do, but you did it. He'll realize that that's wrong. They're not stupid, they'll figure it out. If I started screaming and yelling at him, ranting and raving, yelling get out of there, I'll never have a good dog.

With a group of cattle or sheep or anything, you're driving these along, and there's some starting to go off to the side. If you send that dog out to bring them back, if he's worth anything at all, he'll go on and bring the others right back over the top of you. If he won't do that, I don't want him anyway.