Understanding Flight Zones and Point of Balance
The point of balance is at the animals’ shoulder. All species of livestock will move forward as the handler stands behind the point of balance. They will back up if the handler stands in front of the point of balance.
Many handlers make the mistake of standing in front of the point of balance while attempting to make an animal move forward. It is not necessary to prod every animal. If the animals are moving through the race by themselves, leave them alone. Often they can be moved by tapping the side of the race.
This diagram illustrates the general flight zone of an animal. The actual flight zone of an individual animal will vary depending on how ‘tame’ the animal is. The flight zone gets bigger when an animal becomes excited.
The flight zone is also bigger when you approach ‘head on’. Calm cattle are easier to move. If cattle become excited, it takes 20 to 30 minutes for them to calm back down.
Using Animals ‘follow the leader’ Instinct
Livestock will naturally follow the leader, therefore handlers need to take advantage of this behaviour to move animals easily. Animals will move more easily into the single file race if it is allowed to become partially empty before attempting to fill it.
A partially empty race provides room to take advantage of following behaviour. Handlers are often reluctant to do this because they are afraid the line will run out and miss notches on the power chain. Once a handler learns to use this method, they will find that keeping up with the line will be easier. As animals enter the crowd pen they will head right up the race.
Cattle move most easily when small bunches are put in the crowd pen as the animals need room to turn. Most cattle will move easily and the crowd gate does NOT have to be pushed up against them. The crowd gate should only be used on stubborn animals.
Handlers need to differentiate between good and bad movement of the cattle. When cattle have ‘good’ movement, they can easily be driven in the desired direction.
When animals have good movement that are all headed in the same direction and moving smoothly. They will look like a group of animals walking to water or making some other voluntary group movement on a large pasture.
In a large group of animals, good movement starts with one animal and additional animals will gradually follow. Good movement entices the other animals to follow, and bad movements prevent other animals from following in an orderly manner. There are two types of bad movement.
- Running, cutting back, and other panic induced movements
- Animals stop moving as an orderly stream in the desired direction.
The first signs of bad movement are stopping, wavering motion or starting to turn away from the desired direction to look at the handler. The extreme form of type two movement is circular movement.
Good movement can be disrupted when the animals are attempting to locate the handler’s position. This is a natural anti-predator behaviour of prey species. They want to know where the predator is and what its intentions are.
Animals will turn and look at a person or a dog that is either in their blind spot behind their rear or is our side their flight zone. Handlers should not remain more than momentarily in any individual animal’s blind spot. Walking through the blind spot will not cause a problem.
To make the group move pressure has to be applied to both the collective flight zone and individual animals within the moving herd.
When an animal or a group responds to the handler’s pressure on the flight zone, the handlers must IMMEDIATELY stop forward movement or change direction of movement to relieve pressure.
This rewards the animal for moving in the desired direction and the animal is more likely to continue that moment. When the desired movement slows down, the handler must apply pressure again.