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If you do need to trim hooves, do so to allow adequate time for your steers to adjust to their newly trimmed feet before pulling heavy loads or entering a show.
Unless you are a professional, it is unwise to use power tools and sanders when trimming hooves in order to ensure the safety of you and your team. Stick with nippers, a rasp and a pair of hoof knives.
Animal Identification Your team of working steers may have arrived with or without eartags; the eartag is a form of identification and may be removed or kept on. If you do use an eartag, make sure they are in the bottom part of the ear to avoid complications in growth and working. Generally, teamsters do not have so many steers in the barn that they need eartags to distinguish steer from steer, but they can be helpful. Some form of animal identification is required for all 4-H working steer animals.
Another form of identification popularly used by teamsters is tattooing. An animal’s name or a number can be tattooed inside the ear to ensure identification. This procedure should only be performed by a licensed veteriSteer with small metal ear tag.
narian or experienced individual.
A veterinarian administers small metal eartags when your steers receive their Tuberculosis (TB) test or they can use a tattoo if they test TB free. This is a form of permanent identification that may be required for traveling over state lines and entering shows. Check with your state rules and regulations for any requirements you need to follow.
Record keeping It is helpful to keep records for your 4-H working steer project. It is important to keep information such as feed costs, health records, approval forms, training and show records. It is also rewarding to track your progress over time. You can track how much time and money you have put into your team.
These records can be kept for your own knowledge and reference. They can also be submitted for judging at the county and state levels. For official record forms, contact your 4-H leader or local Extension Educator.
19 Approval Forms New Hampshire 4-H programs require animal project members to submit approval forms every year they plan to participate in New Hampshire 4-H shows. Deadlines for submitting these forms may change from year to year, but are typically in the spring for working steers. The forms must be filled out, signed by yourself, your 4-H leader and county extension educator. The information included must be accurate, as any falsified forms will be disqualified, and you will be unable to show your project that year. If you have more than one team, it would be wise to sign up all teams just in case you decide to show one team over the other. Remember that, while approval forms are required to enter each show and you should have them and health records available at all times, they are NOT fair entry forms. You will need to contact fair administration in order to obtain entry forms for individual 4-H and open shows. Contact your 4-H leader or county extension educator for approval forms and/or information on entering county fair competitions.
Behavior The focus of the 4-H Working Steer project is training your animals to respond in a yoke without a halter. The use of a goad or whip and voice are the techniques used for animal control.
When starting a team, it is important to remember the five basic commands: Whoa, Giddup, Gee, Haw, and Back. These are words that the team will quickly associate with certain actions. It would be wise for the teamster to use these commands consistently and not try the change them. This will help in the resale value of your team, as teamsters will be more apt to purchase teams who already know the commands with which they are familiar.
For ease in training, you should purchase your team as young as possible. Although older animals can be trained, it is easier to handle a younger, smaller animal. Imprinting is more likely to occur at this younger age. You will find that your steers will recognize your voice and shape as you come out to the barn to feed and work with them. You can use this recognition factor to your advantage.
Naming your team Naming your team is very important, as you will use their names in conjunction with the commands. Keep the names to short one or two syllable words that do not rhyme like: Duke and Diamond, Bert and Ernie, or Ben and Jerry. The names shouldn’t rhyme with commands you use either (Bow rhymes with Whoa). Your steers will be able to recognize the sound or their name, but only if you keep it short enough so they can pay attention through it.
Cattle Behavior It is important you understand your team and their behavior. Cattle may not think like humans, but they can communicate to us in subtle ways. You must be in tune to what they are trying to tell you. Much of the behavior exhibited by cattle is learned. When working with cattle, we often take for granted their eyesight, hearing capabilities and response to stimuli.
■ Eyesight Your steers have very good vision. With eyes on the side of their heads, your team can see what is happening in front of them, as well as what you’re doing beside them. This panoramic vision leads to a concept we call the “flight zone.” The flight zone of a steer can be used to your advantage during training. When you stand in front of the steer, you pose a threat to him, and he will move around or backwards. This may be helpful at some point, but not if you want them to move forward.
20 When approaching a steer, move slowly and within the sight of the animal. He will know you mean him no harm and allow capture. Sudden movements may startle the steer into running.
As long as you assure the steer of his safety, he will be much easier to handle.
■ Hearing Cattle have very keen hearing, and they will learn quickly to associate certain sounds with certain activities. The opening of the barn door and clank of buckets will immediately alert your steers it’s feeding time. Just as they associate these sounds with food, they will be able to associate the commands you give them with what you want them to do. Do not be fooled by a team who pretends not to hear you, just keep repeating the command in a calm fashion and soon they will understand.
When using voice commands, it is very important to be firm and persistent. A team is not going to learn the commands in one day, but as long as you continue training with positive reinforcements, and force when necessary, they will eventually understand. You must be patient.
Trying to teach your team too many commands at once will confuse them. Start by teaching “whoa”, the most important command. Then, after you think they have a grasp of the concept, add “giddup” and work from there.
Remember that your team watches every move you make. Even if you are being consistent in your voice commands, slight differences in your body language can confuse the animals.
■ Touch Cattle are very aware of their surroundings. Regardless of their tough hide, you will find your steers will be able to feel a fly land on their coat. This fly will cause a flick of the tail or twitch of the skin to be rid of the annoyance. On the other hand, the area around the horns and head is not quite as sensitive, as the head is used when exhibiting aggressive behavior.
It is necessary to remember a steer can feel pain. The whip or goad should only be used as reinforcement when voice commands are not enough, and even then, only slight taps are required.
Excessive beating is abusive and will confuse the steer as to what he did wrong. If you hit your steers with brutal force while they are demonstrating the command you asked for, you will only regress in training. In addition, remember you are setting an example for animal agriculture to the general public who may be watching. Any excessive force may lead to questions about abuse and cruelty.
■ Creatures of Habit Keep in mind that cattle are creatures of habit, and will recognize patterns in training. They know when and from where feed will come, and how long a workout usually lasts. They will even recognize a common turning around point, and become excited for the walk home. Variety is the spice of training. Mix things up and keep your team waiting for the next command.
If an animal wants to avoid a certain area or place, they must be trained to overcome their fear and trust the teamster.
■ Dominance You’ll notice that your team will nearly always be together, and where you find one, the other is sure to be close by. Cattle are very social and enjoy the company of others. They, along with any other cattle you may have, establish a herd, and each of your steers will have a place in this herd. Usually, a steer with larger horns and heavier body weight will maintain a status of dominant steer within your team. You must establish your dominance over both steers to assure easier handling.
As with a dominant steer, your team will respect and follow you if they realize you are indeed dominant. To establish your dominance in the herd, start when the animals are young. Let them know that you are capable of capturing and restraining them, as well as providing them
Training The first step in training is to bond with your team.
This is simple, but necessary, as imprinting will occur through daily chores.
Before you begin training, you must remember your team will listen to you and respond to your voice and body language at all times (even when you are not aware of it). Consistency is key in training, and will be rewarded with a well-trained team.
Do not try to teach all five commands to your team Leading steer on halter at once. This will only confuse the animal and frustrate you. Start with “whoa”, then “giddup”. After you feel confident they recognize and attempt these commands, you can move on to “gee” and “haw”, giving a team at least a week to let each of the commands sink in. Reserve “back” for last, as it is an unnatural gait and may prove to be the most difficult command to teach. Remember to follow a command by the name of the steer so they can distinguish which team member you refer to once yoked.
Throughout training, use positive reinforcement to let your team know they are doing something right. Scratches under the chin and kind words can be used as positive reinforcement. Correct poor behavior or bad habits with a sharp tap of the goad stick and stern words.
Although you are teaching a team, do not immediately yoke up your animals and expect good results. Begin by halter training one steer at a time to allow time to get to know each other.
Especially in these early stages, it is important to work with your steers daily. They will learn more quickly if the repetition of command is daily rather than further spaced apart. Be firm when training your team. They need to know what it is you want them to do, and they will only learn these commands if they can follow your actions without question.
You may begin halter training your calves as soon as they have become accustomed to their new home. This may take a day or two to allow time for stress levels to be reduced and make sure the team is well rested.
Before taking your steer out for the first time, make sure the halter you are using fits the animal’s head snugly and will not slip off if the steer balks.
The large loop of a halter should fit over the animal’s head, behind both horns (poll) and ears.
The small loop should fit over the muzzle and rest between the eyes and nose. The end you hold should run under the steer’s chin to the left side of his face. This will allow you to pull tight, causing an uncomfortable sensation if necessary to correct a command.
A steer’s first trip out of the barn can vary greatly. Some animals use the opportunity to run full speed ahead, while others refuse to move forward an inch. It is your responsibility to make sure their behavior is corrected immediately to assure efficient training.
22 It is unnatural for a steer to walk next to you, but it is something they will learn to accept. When starting to halter train, always remain at the animals’ side, just at or behind their point of shoulder. Because of a steer’s panoramic vision, you do not pose a threat to the path of forward motion by standing at the point of their shoulder.
The Five Basic Commands
There are five basic commands to learn when training steers. They are:
• Giddup, Waheesh, Come up, etc. = To move forward
• Gee = Turn right
• Haw = Turn left
• Back, Back up = back up
• Whoa = Stop Make sure you know and understand these commands before trying to teach them to your team.
It can be very confusing to a team if you teach them a command, and don’t use the command consistently.
■ Giddup One at a time, take you steers out of their pen/barn on a halter. When you move forward, say “giddup” and tug on the halter. If the animal moves with you, keep walking to an open area where you plan to continue the lesson.
If the steer does not move forward with you and instead assumes the drag-me-all-you-want-I’mnot-moving pose, you have a few options.
First, you can continue to tug on the halter while saying the command, then release to give the animal time to think. If he starts moving forward while you are tugging, immediately relax the pull to let him know it is more comfortable to walk than be pulled.
If tugging on the halter does not work, try standing at about mid-steer, while still holding the lead end of the halter. Take hold of the steers tail and pull it to the side. Do not pull up or too hard, as a broken tail will cause problems. By gently pulling the tail to the side, the steer will instinctively try to get away from the sensation, hence moving forward – don’t forget to say “giddup”!
Another approach used by teamsters is to introduce the goad stick. Never use this tool to hurt your animals. If you do, they will associate you and the goad stick with pain. This will make training much more difficult.
Use the goad stick to tap the steer on his rump while saying the command “giddup” and giving a quick tug on the halter. Allow a pause to give your steer time to think about the command before repeating the procedure.