Part 2: Stockmanship Tips from the Ranchers Who Use Them

“Driving aids? We don’t even use driving aids,” said Colorado rancher Steve Wooten during a recent panel discussion on stockmanship practices and their relationship to beef quality assurance.

The discussion took place last weekend, when Colorado State University hosted a BQA Stockmanship and Stewardship workshop, with title sponsorship from Boehringer Ingelheim and support from the Colorado and national Beef Quality Assurance programs. The workshop included classroom sessions, practical hands-on applications, demonstrations and a keynote address from CSU animal scientist and animal welfare specialist Temple Grandin, PhD.

In the panel discussion, four producers representing different types of ranches and a commercial feedyard outlined how they apply stockmanship and overall BQA concepts into their day-to-day cattle handling and management.

Part 1 of this series summarized comments from cattle feeder Steve Gabel and rancher Mark Frasier. This installment adds insights from Steve Wooten and Trey Patterson.

Steve Wooten, Beatty Canyon Ranch: Steve operates a cow-calf operation in rugged canyon country in southern Colorado, with a focus on low-stress animal handling and environmental stewardship. He serves on the board of directors for the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

Wooten says an extended drought in his area, extending from 1997 through the early 2000s, motivated him to study more advanced grazing systems and overall lower-input, lower-cost production. With instruction through the Allan Savory Institute and Dr. Dave Pratt with the Ranching for Profit Schools, he adopted intensive grazing programs that helped his family endure the drought while positioning themselves for lower-cost production in higher-moisture years. These systems require frequent cattle handling, primarily on horseback, so he and his family learned and practiced low-stress handling methods and increased their emphasis on behavior in bull selection.

Above all, good stockmanship requires a change in mindset, Wooten says. From the time a calf is born, he tries to make all or its experiences with people positive. During calving season for example, he likes to move pairs out of the calving pasture as soon as possible for health reasons. But if a pair isn’t ready to move, he gives them time rather than forcing them.

He also has worked at reading cattle behavior to identify stress and adjust accordingly. Sometimes, for example, he moves groups of cows long distances to fresh paddocks on the extensive ranch. Usually the moves take less than one day, but if the cows show signs of heat stress or fatigue during the move, he’ll leave them overnight and finish the drive the next day. He’s also worked with truckers who load out his calves at marketing time, limiting the number of calves in the tub and using pressure-and-release methods rather than driving aids such as prods or paddles. Open sides on alleys, which allow cattle to see their handlers, allow easy movement with these methods he says.

Nutrition is critical in a forage-based system, and Wooten stresses it begins with the cow, from before breeding and through gestation, to support the developing fetus and provide high-quality colostrum at birth. He provides mineral supplements year-around, using custom mineral mixes tailored to production groups of animals and the forage they graze, and feeds protein supplements as needed depending on forage quality. His family fully preconditions calves, beginning with a round of vaccinations at branding time. He consults with his herd veterinarian regularly to adjust health programs as needed.

These efforts have paid off, partly by reducing labor and costs on the ranch, and also by generating repeat customers for his feeder calves and replacement heifers.

Trey Patterson, PhD, Padlock Ranch Company: Trey serves as President and CEO at Padlock Ranch, a large commercial cow-calf operation based in Ranchester, Wyo. Since joining the company in 2005, he has worked to optimize grazing and management to control production costs while protecting animal welfare and environmental stewardship.

The Padlock ranch covers vast, extensive acreage in rough country along the Wyoming-Montana line, with multiple herds of cows managed as individual groups. The operation includes a farm and a backgrounding lot, allowing them to market 800-pound yearlings, and market cows, which Patterson notes are an important component in ranch economics. The ranch employs about one person per 800 cows, meaning ranch hands need stockmanship skills to move cattle efficiently. “We can’t afford a lot of hired hands,” Patterson says, “so we have needed a change in mindset for handling practices.” For Patterson, animal stewardship means just doing the right thing, and trying to ensure that cattle have “no bad days.”

The biggest challenge, he says, involves people. Good leadership is essential to teach employees how to do things and the reasons behind those practices. Facilities need maintenance for smooth, low-stress handling, and when they need replacement, modifications should accommodate stockmanship. However, Patterson says, handlers need to adapt their handling practices to the facilities available, and not use shortcomings of facilities as an excuse for poor stockmanship. He takes the same attitude toward animal-health programs, saying that while vaccination programs are important, they work hand-in-hand with stockmanship. Vaccination cannot make up for poor management, he says.

Read part 1 of this series from