wikiHow to Herd Cattle

Three Methods:Understand the flight zoneMoving cattle in pastureMoving cattle through a working alley or race

Herding cattle is an art and a science that requires patience, knowledge of flight-zone, and a bit of bovine psychology. Herding cattle is as old as when the first cattle where domesticated over 10,000 years ago.

Herding is a method done by herding dogs and/or humans to move a herd of cattle from one area to another, either from a grazed area to a fresh pasture, or from the pasture to the handling facilities where cattle are run through the race and crush to be vaccinated, dewormed, dehorned, tagged, etc. before being let out to the pasture again.

Method 1
Understand the flight zone

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    Be aware that cattle tend to move in a circular direction, and have areas of what is called a "flight zone." This is the short term used to describe the maximum distance that an animal is comfortable maintaining in your presence. If you are outside of the flight zone, there will be no movement. Step inside the flight zone, and you will get movement going away from you. Flight zones have what is called a "Point of Balance," which is the point that influences where an animal can move according to the "pressure" applied to it. A bovine's point of balance is usually at the shoulder, especially in confined spaces, and is determined by the animal's wide-angle vision. However, the point of balance in an open-pen or pasture may not be at the shoulder, but perhaps at the eye, the neck, or even the side. There is no average distance of flight zone an animal. Each flight zone depends on how "tame" an animal is, and how calm or excited the animal is. Flight zone is always the largest around the head area, and smallest around the hips.
    • Applying pressure behind the point of balance will always make an animal move forward. Applying pressure in front of the point of balance will always make the animal move backwards.
    • Applying pressure directly to the right of the animal's shoulder will make him move right, and the same if you move at a 90 degree angle to the animal's left shoulder.
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    To make an animal stop, stop walking when you are past the point of balance and when the animal feels you are out of its flight zone. To move only one animal, stop walking when the point of balance of that animal is crossed. Remember to stay calm.

Method 2
Moving cattle in pasture

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    Walk out to the herd of cattle that are in a pasture or corral. Be relaxed and calm as you do so, and make sure you are in the frame of mind where you can handle and herd the cattle as calmly as you can.
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    Do the necessary preparations. Be prepared ahead of time before you start herding them to the designated area. Open the gates you want the cattle to go through and close any gates that you wish the cattle to not go through.
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    Get the cattle into a loose herd. Start by moving in a zigzag movement to get them in a loose herd, working from the rear of the herd. Do not circle around the cattle. Apply pressure from the outside edges of the herd or the collective flight zone, to move the cattle into a loose bunch. You can induce the rear animals to start moving by giving them a "predatory" stare, simulating the stalking movement of a predator sizing up the herd. Don't linger too long in an animal's blind spot though, otherwise it will turn around and look at you. Take your time, as you may need to make large movements according to how large the pasture is and how far out the cattle are spread out. This initial step may take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes long.
    • Don't go after loose stragglers, as they will be drawn out of the woods or are off to one side will be drawn to the herd. And don't bunch them up to quickly, as you only want them to be slightly anxious about your behaviour and not take off suddenly in fear and flight. Anxiety always comes before fear and flight.
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    Move them where you want them to go. To start initiating movement in the direction you wish them to go, apply pressure to the collective flight zone. Continue the zigzag movement, but press closer into the herd, moving perpendicular to the direction that the herd is supposed to go. Once the herd is moving in the desired direction, it will be a bit easier to keep them moving.
    • Animals will always start wavering or circling away from the desired direction, just so they can locate where you, the handler, are. This is a natural anti-predatory behaviour, as they always want to know where the predator is and what its intentions are. This may occur if the handler (or predator) is in their blind spot. So, to keep this circling behaviour from happening, or to correct them and maintain them in the same direction they need to go, do not remain, even momentarily, in any animal's blind spot. Immediately stop or change the movement they are going as a means to relieve pressure and reward the animals for moving forward.
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    Move through the gate. When you reach the gate, stand near the entrance of the gate (not right in front or right after it), and move forwards and backwards to control the movement of animals through the gate. Moving forwards will stop movement, and moving backwards will relieve pressure and allow animals to move through the gate.

Method 3
Moving cattle through a working alley or race

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    Move cattle into the holding pens with the same methods described above. The same movements for moving cattle from pasture to pasture can be used in moving cattle in a corral. Here are some specific situations:
    • Through the gate: Control the number of cattle entering a gate as described in the step on gate movements above, moving backwards to release tension and allow flow through the gate, then moving forwards to stop further movement. This is very useful when controlling the number of animals that are allowed through a race or working alley at a time.
    • Through the handling facility: To make them move from the tub to the race, walk in the opposite direction they are to go. This will put you behind their point of balance when you walk away from them, letting them move down the race until no more animals can enter it. When you need to keep them moving forward but not backwards, walk away from the animals in the same direction they were moving and return to the point where you started at, and repeat your movements as necessary.
    • Into the squeeze chute: Moving one animal into a squeeze chute involves the handler stopping movement when the point of balance is crossed.
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    Release after the processing is done. When releasing a bovine from the squeeze chute, stand behind the point of balance, or walk in the opposite direction the animal is to go, putting yourself behind the point of balance.


  • Cattle are feed-oriented animals, and will train easily when given a food reward for learning a certain behaviour or become conditioned to a certain sound or sight. A call or the sound of a horn (and consistency) will condition cattle to come to get something to eat, and to help get them to move to an area you wish them to go.
  • Always remember that whenever you are handling your cattle, you are training them. Cattle will respond to however you handle them, good or bad, consistent or not.
  • The herding steps above are primarily used for cattle that live in extensive systems like large ranches or in feedlots where they're not used to human handlers. For those cattle that are very used to or completely tame towards their human handlers, these cattle need to be lead into a new pasture or corral, as herding (unless you're using a cattle dog) is often not the best solution and will confuse and frighten them.
  • Always remain calm and quiet when handling cattle. Do not get angry, frustrated, excited, or nervous, otherwise the cattle will sense your state and reflect it in their behaviour, causing them to become excited and anxious also. Do not yell or use excessive force (like beating them with the sorting stick, giving them a few too many shots with the cattle prod, etc.) to get them going. Not only is that animal abuse but it won't result in them obeying your wishes; it will increase their fear and desire to get away.
  • You can use these techniques for herding[1] other herd animals, too.
  • A dog[2], preferably of a special breed, can help you herd[3]. Make sure that the dog is trained so that he doesn't attack or panic the animals and, especially with smaller animals, that his herding technique won't hurt them. Ducks, for example, should be stared down - not nipped at.[4]


  • Excited, wild movement can also cause a lot of damage to equipment and even injury to the animals themselves. Calm, slow movement is the quickest way to get them moving and going in the way you want to go without any trouble.
  • As mentioned above, do not yell or chase cattle, as this will only increase stress, and may cause some animals to become aggressive when they feel cornered. Cornered animals are very dangerous, and may seriously injure or even kill you.

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