Some observations and notes from this week's stock work - mostly for my own further instruction!
- We moved 76 cows about 2 miles to the upper part of the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center on Monday. I rode one of the Center horses, and I was joined by another rider on a quad. A third person "led" the cows in the hay truck (although they didn't seem too interested in the hay). These were cows that know the Center, but I really concentrated in maintaining a balance between keeping forward momentum and maintaining the "shape" of the herd. The dogs were great at keeping the cattle bunched, and the move went well.
- Due to an open gate, 9 of these cows came back down to some irrigated pasture. Yesterday, we drove them back up the road to the rest of the cows. I rode my mule, Frisbee, and used both dogs again. Frisbee, as I've written previously, had not worked cattle until I brought her to the Center about 6 weeks ago. In fact, she was afraid of cattle. She performed wonderfully yesterday. She climbed banks, crossed creeks, and focused on the cows. I was even able to put her on the tail of one cow - she physically touched the cow! Mules often dislike being ridden downhill - Frisbee is no exception! I think she's worried that the saddle will slide up her neck (mules don't have prominent withers, like horses). She usually wants to go slowly down hills. However, when she's focused on cattle, she loses her fear of going downhill - we tracked down a couple of wayward cows at a trot - downhill! She's taking to the regular work!
- This morning, we moved a large group of heifers up the road to a different irrigated pasture. It was an easy move, but it was helped by the fact that I allowed the heifers to move off at their own pace. They stopped at the one turn we had to make and thought about circling back, but a few serpentine moves on my part got them headed up the hill again. This really emphasized the importance of starting out. Letting the cows get up, stretch, and move off at their own pace really works!
- Ernie helped me gather a small pasture (4 acres) with 81 cows in it. I asked him for a left-hand outrun ("come bye"). For the first time, he went wide enought not to make contact with the cows until he was behind them and balanced with me. Once he made contact (about 250 yards away), he looked to me for further instruction (another first). I asked him to walk onto the cows - and his "lift" was perfect - enough force to get movement, but in total control. We had to take the cows out through a gate in mid-fence (as opposed to a corner), which is more difficult. Ernie has finally figured out that we're working together, I think!
All in all, this was a pretty satisfying week - learned some, progressed some - and excited about next week!