Herding Lessons

I have been herding cattle for most of my life.  There are some beautiful life lessons in the art of herding animals.  They have been helpful for me as a parent, a manager and a human.  Here are some of them:

  • When you are herding cattle you must practice being full sized.  If you shrink or whisper or apologise for your existence the cattle will simply ignore you.  Be clear with them about where you want them to go.  You don’t have to feel guilty for disturbing them.  They won’t hold it against you 😉
  • Don’t take your bad mood out on the cows. It will backfire…they will just become more aggravated and less manageable.  
  • Cattle do not care about the fact that you are in a hurry.  The story of your day or how much work you still have to do is of no concern to them. You are asking them to move because you want them to move, don’t expect them to thank you for it or do you any favours.  They can’t be emotionally manipulated by your story of victimhood.
  • If they don’t want to move because they are enjoying the patch of grass they are chewing on don’t take it personally.  Be persistent.  Be clear.  You will be victorious.  They will forget that patch of grass soon enough.
  • If you push a cow from behind it will push back, no matter how many extra helpings of pudding you have had, you won’t be able to move a 450 kg animal with brute force. 
  • If a calf gets separated from its mother you cannot herd it alone.  Its herding instinct hasn’t developed yet. If you try chase the calf, she might run for kilometers in the opposite direction (no matter how fast you think you are, your two legs are no match for her four).  Instead, stand back let her find her mother and then herd them together. If you want the calf to do something you need to make sure she is with her mother. 
  • There are always one or two highly-strung cattle that keep looking at you expecting you to do something to justify running for the hills. Avoid getting into a conversation with them and making it personal.  Look beyond them to the whole herd. See the big picture.  They will settle down when they realise you don’t have it in for them.  The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.
  • If you raise your stick or your voice when the cattle are already doing what you want them to do (like walking through the gate or up the road) then your voice and stick looses power and you can’t use it when you really need it. 
  • Herds work like magnets – the bigger the herd the stronger the pull.  Divide and conquer doesn’t work with cattle.  (Nor with people in the long run).
  • The herd moves at the pace of the slowest member.  If you try and rush them you will double your work.
  • Herding is a team activity in the deepest sense.  We create a human net and steadily push the cattle in the direction they need to go. Each member of the team must know where each other are all the time.  If one tries to go ahead of the others he will create more work for them all.

Now, try out these tricks with your fellow beings and let me know how it goes!

Or come for a holiday on The Rest and try it for yourself! 

Herding Lessons

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We are half way between Cape Town and Johannesberg (about 8 hours in either direction) half an hour off the N9 highway. We are an hour from Graaff-Reinet and 25 minutes from Nieu Bethesda.

To Drive: Email us for directions and check on the current state of the road and how your car will fare on the dirt roads.

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