NO TURNERS FOR ME, PLEASE
by Tony Rohne
I leased a pasture on the condition that I would run the landlord’s Holstein milk cow with the Herefords I was buying. My cows were wild as a March Hare and his cow was skin and bones. She died about five days after she had a half Brahman calf. I thought the little fellow would steal enough milk to make it but felt like I needed to bottle feed him for awhile. I called most of my cows in a trap with feed but the calf stayed in the pasture with some cows that wanted to act like fools. I got mad and started trying to chase the bunch in with my pickup. That calf never saw a bottle.
A neighbor told me he took some dogs after a blue Brahman cross cow he was having trouble with. The dogs worked the cow over enough to make her jump in the pen with the rest of the cows. That sounded good. I wanted revenge so I started in the cowdog business.
I acquired a high-bred cow dog; expected her to be able to handle cattle but what I saw the first time out was not a pretty sight. It went something like this: (1) the cows saw the dog and ran to find their calves; (2) the dog thought she was having her way with these beasts and chased them; (3) once the cows got their calves together, they started chasing the dog; (4) the dog ran behind me for cover; (5) a cow that I could feed out of my hand tried to run over me; (6) I chased the dog down and loaded her into the pickup; (7) it took two weeks and a load of cubes to beg the cows in the pen; (8) once the last cow came in the pen, my wife, Joan, who had been hiding in the weeds ran up and slammed the gate; (9) I loaded and sold somebody else my trouble.
Suzy, the “cow dog”, stayed at the house for awhile.
I have learned much in the 15 years since this happened. Every chance I have, I work my stock with my dogs. Almost never do I fail to get my cattle work done even though I am constantly trying out green dogs.
To start with, there were three beginners: me, the cows, and my dog. My system of using dogs to manage cattle has evolved around these three elements: (1) I changed as much of the facility, and my way of doing things, around as possible to compliment the dogs; (2) I trained my cattle; (3) I got the best dogs I could and use them as much as I can. That is probably the order that needs to be taken when changing a system over to dogs. Today I have in separate groups; cow-calf pairs, dry cows, Holstein replacement heifers, 300 pound steers, and 650 pound steers.
Dogs that work cattle need to be able to train them in varying degrees. Three hundred pound weaner calves have to be taught to stay together and not run around like a bunch of jugheads. Cows with calves, dry cows, and bulls all have their own ways to test a dog. Livestock learn about a dog just the same as they learn about a hot-wire, pickup horn, feed sack. waterholes and you. Some dogs specialize in training cattle and can do it in much less time than others. I call them “breaker” dogs. Cowboys that gather cattle for the public need dogs that train about anything in a short time. Most have hard-hitting, head dogs. A few of these dogs wilt grab hold and catch livestock. The Australians call them “hangin’ dogs”.
Dogs need to be able to control cattle. Weaned calves can be goofy. They can spook and scatter everywhere. Cows will throw their heads up and wave their tail as they hit the brush or that bad spot in the highway fence. Some dogs have a strong instinct to control stock even though they may not be strong enough to do anything with it. Those dogs whose ancestors had to stalk, control, and catch flighty prey for supper developed some unique qualities for gathering and holding stock. They balance (trap) stock by holding it on their own — circling, holding it against a fence, and holding it against a partner. Some call these eye dogs, tight eyed dogs, or dogs with a lot of eye. Most dogs could gather supper but some breeds make natural control dogs.
Ranchers use horses, whips, their pickup, the wife, the kids, the tractor, hot shots, clubs, rocks, the four wheeler, and their boot to push cattle. On sale day, when the bank note is due and the wife is at a church meeting, cattle can shade up in a briar thicket and make conventional methods of moving them impossible. They often have to be pushed. On smaller ranches like mine, cattle probably have to be pushed more than they have to be gathered. Jobs like driving them off wheat pasture to dead grass, moving them along a fence, down a lane, out of a trap, down an alley, or up a chute involve pushing cattle.
Some dogs are specialists at pushing stock. Some are selectively bred for the ability to turn their heads and bite cattle on the heel right on the ground. Some dogs bark when pushing stock. A barking dog can help handlers know the location of cattle in timber as well as cause stock to move away from them. Dogs that bark can be as aggravating as eye dogs that lay in a trance by messing with one head while a hundred run off. Cows pick on sorry dogs.
My perfect, versatile cattle dog (if I ever find him) will probably be a breaker, controller, and a pusher with some mouth. He will boss cattle. He will hit the nose, block the head, bite a front foot as the cow turns, and heel her to get her traveling. He will be just noisy enough to push a big bunch of cattle and let me know where they are when they are going through the brush (headed toward the pen, of course), but keep quiet otherwise. Unfortunately, there are a lot of dogs that can’t do any of the above. The Australians call them turners. All they are good for is turning dog food into manure.
this article was first published in the October/November 1994 issue of Ranch Dog Trainer Magazine