Four Ways To Gather Cattle In A Pasture And Start Good Movement

To gather a pasture from the back, a rider should zigzag behind the herd. ( Whit Hibbard )

A lot of ranchers have trouble gathering their cattle; that is, it takes a lot of riders multiple days and they still end up short. If done properly, however, one or two people can gather even large pastures in one day and miss none.

There are four basic ways to gather a pasture:

  1. From the front. An effective way to gather a pasture is to start a lead for the gate, then feed animals to that movement. 
  2. From the back.  A second way to gather a pasture is from the back. For example, Bud and Eunice Williams worked on a large mountain ranch that always took five riders two weeks to gather one particular pasture and they never got them all. It took Bud and Eunice one and a half days, and they didn’t miss anything by zigzagging in the rear in a “T” to the gate (see photo above). 
  3. From both the front and rear. If we have additional help, a viable way to gather a pasture is to combine the first two methods (i.e., simultaneously from the front and back). As one person is starting a lead another can zigzag in the rear. As a cautionary note, however, animals should only be subjected to one source of pressure at a time, otherwise they can become confused. It’s like having too many bosses. So as one rider pressures the herd, the other needs to release pressure. If pressured from the front and rear at the same time, animals might decide to leave the bunch.
  4. From the front and sides. As one person starts a lead, others ride to the back feeding animals to that movement as they go. 

How might we decide whether to gather from the front or the back? If it’s a fairly small and open area, the cattle can see you and they know where they’re going, or we’re just changing paddocks, we might work best from the front and start a lead. If it’s a larger pasture with varied terrain, where they are trailing out a long ways and we don’t want the lead to get too far ahead, try to start from the back. This will also prevent the herd from getting bogged down grazing once they are through the gate. 

Regardless of the method used, the objective is to create what’s known as “good movement.” Good movement is when animals are contentedly trailing out at their own pace and their minds are going forward.  

Power of the Draw

Good gathering relies heavily on the “power of the draw,” which means good movement also draws other animals to follow (see below).

cattle with good movement
The cattle in the foreground are trailing out with good movement, which literally draws the cattle in the background out of the brush. (Whit Hibbard) 

On the other hand, if we have bad movement, they’ll want to get away from us, hide or go back to where they last felt comfortable.

The essence of gathering effectively and easily is to get good movement going, which draws others to it, or we can feed others to that movement, then not do anything to interfere with it, like riding forward-parallel, pushing from directly behind, getting ahead of movement, yelling and whistling and having dogs chase the animals barking.    

If we just approach and start our animals properly to create good movement, and then not do anything to interfere with that, gathering is easy. But if we do it improperly, like going in lobbing grenades and creating bad movement, then it can be very difficult.