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Driving your herd with ATV stockmanship

Robyn Scherer Published on 24 June 2013
Driving cattle with an ATV

Traditional ranchers may scoff at the idea of using an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) or four-wheeler on a ranch, especially when it comes to working cattle.

However, ATV use is an increasing trend, and one that many ranchers are finding to be very beneficial.

Jeremy Blach, a rancher from Yuma, Colorado, uses four-wheelers in addition to horses on the Blachburg and B7 Ranch, where he is a part-owner and manager.

“We have both horses and four-wheelers. The four-wheelers are nice because we can use them to check irrigation, fences and on the cows. They are more versatile for us and get more use. We use them every day,” he says.

They originally bought their ATVs for use on the farm but found they were beneficial for the ranching aspect as well. “They are right there for the farming, so you can use them for both and save time,” he adds.

The Blach family uses four four-wheelers on their operation to check their 700 cow-calf pairs and on their 2,500 acres of farm ground. “We put 50 to 60 miles on the four wheelers every day between ranch chores.

When we are checking cows, we can put things on the four-wheelers, such as supplements, and take that out to the cattle. You can’t do that with the horses,” he states.

Sensitizing cattle to ATVs
It does take time for cattle to get used to four-wheelers, and they should be desensitized to it before they are moved with one. This can be done by using the four-wheeler around the cows to feed and when they aren’t being moved. Feeding with the four-wheeler will teach the cattle to associate the machine with a positive experience.

If possible, the four-wheeler should be left when the cattle can sniff and approve it in the field, possibly when fence is being fixed or supplements are being delivered. This will help the cattle to get over any fears they may have of the machine.

When handling the cattle with a four-wheeler, Blach stresses the importance of keeping calm and handling the cattle properly. “First of all, we always stress to our ATV drivers that we need to keep as calm and quiet as possible.

It’s not as quiet as a horse, but if driven right, the cattle will stay calm. If you go out and start chasing them, they will start running just like they would with a horse. As far as moving them, however, they aren’t a lot different with a four-wheeler if they are run the right way,” he explains.

He continues, “When you have people with a lot of experience with cattle, that pays whether they are on horseback or riding. They understand how the cattle move and pay attention to how they are reacting.”

Approach with caution
The key to moving cattle using a four-wheeler is to move slowly and take time to move the cattle calmly. Just like moving cattle on a horse, a rancher must understand the flight zone and balance point of a cow – and utilize these concepts.

The flight zone is the personal space of the cow, and it is different for every cow. A rider must be aware of the flight zone so as to not spook the cow. The balance point typically resides at the shoulder, and movement behind the shoulder will cause the animal to move forward.

Movement in front of the shoulder will typically cause the animal to move back. This must be remembered when moving cattle, whether on horse or four-wheeler.

One of the biggest advantages Blach sees to using a four-wheeler is in big areas. “If you are in larger pastures, especially on a hot day, the four-wheeler won’t get tired like a horse will. A 1,000-acre pasture is a lot of ground to cover and sometimes you need to do it in a short amount of time,” Blach states.

The biggest challenge that he sees is not in the vehicle itself, but the operator. “The biggest challenge is definitely the driver. It takes time to get them to understand to take it easy and watch what the cattle are doing.

Human error is the biggest issue. You need to keep your distance; you can’t be right next to the cow like you can on a horse,” he says.

Safety and limitations
When sorting cattle this can be an issue, as a four-wheeler can’t move like a horse can. Many ranchers who regularly utilize four-wheelers still resort to using a horse for sorting.

“We have used four-wheelers to do sorting, but a horse works better, especially if you are out in an open area. You can’t move quickly enough on the four-wheeler or turn quickly enough,” Blach states.

Safety is another concern with a four-wheeler, and unlike a horse, a four-wheeler can’t watch the ground a rancher is traveling over.

Uneven terrain, obstacles, people, livestock and other vehicles will be the responsibility of the driver to spot and avoid. Items such as loose wire, brush, rocks or vines could be a problem and may be hard to see, especially in tall grass.

Fences, especially thin wired fences, can be hard to see and are low-profile. Riders must be diligent about watching the area around them for any obstacles. It is easy for a rider to focus more on the animals than the terrain, and this could lead to potential serious injury.

Before a four-wheeler is taken out, it should be checked over daily for problems. “We are always checking the four-wheeler, including checking the tires, shocks and U joints. It must be safe enough to drive, so that our riders stay safe. We do that at least twice a week,” says Blach.

If a rider chooses, he can wear protective gear, such as a helmet, safety glasses, gloves or shin guards. All riders should wear long pants and closed-toe shoes at a minimum.

The four-wheeler has many uses around the farm or ranch, and moving cattle is becoming one of these duties. If care is taken, this can be as effective as a horse and allows a rancher to perform many duties at the same time in less time.

“Our four-wheelers are running all day long, and we will continue to use them for the versatility and time-saving ability,” Blach states.  end mark

PHOTO
If you are in larger pastures, especially on a hot day, the four-wheeler won’t get tired like a horse will. A 1,000-acre pasture is a lot of ground to cover and sometimes you need to do it in a short amount of time. Photo by Julie Brown.

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