Techniques relieve stress on cowboys, livestock

Dianna Troyer/For the Capital Press Steve Cote explains how to approach an animal. His book about handling livestock has sold more than 9,000 copies.

USDA publishes book on how to manage cattle


For the Capital Press

Rancher Jack Jensen stopped feeling irritated at obstinate cows and wandering calves after he learned how to handle them -- without shouting, sending his dog after them or using a prod.

Instead, he learned to use low-stress livestock handling techniques from Steve Cote, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Arco, Idaho. Cote teaches classes and described the techniques in a book, "Stockmanship -- A Powerful Tool for Grazing Lands Management."

"It's amazing and profitable," said Jensen, who used the low-stress techniques before selling his ranch near Arco several years ago. "One man can do what it took three or four men to do before, and cowboys don't get mad anymore. The cattle do what you ask them to do because they don't think they're forced."

Cote doesn't take credit for discovering the techniques he described in his book. He learned them at the Bud Williams' stockmanship school. Cote said he wrote the book to share what he learned and because Williams didn't have the time or interest in writing a book.

In March 2004, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture published the book, Cote thought about 800 copies might sell.

"So far, about 9,000 copies have sold," he said of the book. "The sales indicate there is a real need for information about low-stress techniques to handle livestock."

Cote wrote the book for anyone who works with cows -- range riders, ranchers, dairy owners, feedlot operators -- to help them reduce stress on the animals, to improve rangeland and to ultimately reduce their own frustration.

"I've been applying these techniques for several years on hundreds of thousands of cattle and have taught classes all over the U.S.," said Cote, who keeps 10 to 15 feeder cows at his place.

He says the techniques are easy to learn. "Using low-stress techniques, you apply pressure to a cow by walking or riding toward it, then, as it responds, you ease the pressure or allow the cow to relieve pressure as it does what you ask. The cows can be taught to drive as a group, turn, slow and stop."

A couple of factors are crucial -- the angle at which you approach the animal, how close you get to it before it moves away and whether you approach the head, shoulder or hip. You can control the direction in which the cows move by zigzagging or moving back and forth in a straight line perpendicular to the direction you want them to move toward.

Cattle that are handled with these methods will stay for a day or few days in upland areas, and riparian areas can be markedly enhanced, Cote explained. The cows can be shown where the water is, allowed to drink, then calmly moved to the desired grazing area and settled there away from the riparian area. They will stay where they have been settled, leave the herd to drink where they were shown and promptly return to the herd.

Using these methods, ranchers can implement a rotational grazing system without fences, much like the first cowboys did when no fences existed in the West.

Cote recalled that some older cowboys in Oklahoma told him during a workshop, "Kid, you're not saying anything new."

Jensen said many ranchers are reluctant to try the methods due to tradition, being unwilling to try something new and "thinking they're doing things perfectly."

He said he encourages others to try the methods.

"It's a lot of fun," Jensen said. "It's learning to communicate with the animals. You see the expression on a cow's face and know what she's thinking."

Cote is happy to share his expertise via books or videos and may be reached at 527-8557. Bud, who relocated to Kansas, has a website for his school at


Bud Williams School:

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