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Second Stockmanship Challenge a successSecond Stockmanship Challenge a success

Event in Alberta included three-day school, competition.

Heather Smith Thomas

September 7, 2023

6 Min Read
Stockmanship clinic
Clinicians Dawn Hnataw and Malcolm MacLean give instructions on stockmanship using a unicycle as an “animal.”Malcolm MacLean

Last year a unique contest was hosted by Malcolm and Jenny MacLean at the Pincher Creek Rodeo Grounds in Alberta, Canada, in conjunction with a stockmanship school to introduce people to the low-stress livestock handling methods developed by Bud Williams. 

This year’s second annual Ultimate Stockmanship Challenge in mid-July was at the Silver Slate indoor arena in Stavely, Alberta, Canada as a three-day school, followed by the stockmanship competition with on-foot and horseback categories.

 Malcolm MacLean created the first Stockmanship Challenge because he could not find another event that represented the skills of a true stock person. “A good stockman has the ability to get the job done, without adding undue stress to stock, because he/she understands cattle behavior, and doesn’t need to use intimidation to get the job done,” he said. Instead these stockmen use proper positioning, and have the ability to read cattle.

The Ultimate Stockmanship Challenge is judged on efficiency of completing tasks and on the stress level of cattle. Events are tailored to simulate life feedlot, ranch, or pasture work when working with groups of cattle by yourself.  

“In our competitions a single person (with or without a horse) is working with a group of cattle instead of teams of people working with a group of cattle, or a single person working with a single animal,” MacLean said.

Last year John Smith (Plateau Cattle Co., Nanton, Alberta) was runner-up in the on-foot competition, and this year was first-place winner in the horseback category.

“The 3-day clinic was very educational, with Glenn Stewart (a well-known horsemanship clinician) talking about horsemanship, Dawn Hnatow talking about cattle handling, and Malcolm MacLean discussing low-stress doctoring,” Smith said. “There were also some speakers in the evening.  Steve Cote, from Idaho, talked about placing cattle, and Desiree Gellatly, Research Scientist at Olds College, Alberta spoke about her research on handling calves at birth and the imprinting effects on gain and behavior.

“Malcolm also had a rodeo clown do a presentation on basic defense. He showed participants what to do if an animal is charging at you. It was informative but also fun to watch and participate in. We’ve all been chased at some point in our lives with cattle, and I’ve seen lots of people chased—and usually they run straight away from the animal and it’s a foot race to the fence, where they sometimes get caught and things go bad.”

Neighboring cattle

“We’ll see what happens the next time I get chased, to see if I remember anything from this demonstration,” he said. Even if your own cattle are gentle, you may have a situation where neighbor’s wild cattle get in and you are trying to get them out or load them up to haul back to where they belong.

“Malcolm and Jenny did a great job, and improved on what they did last year,” Smith said. “I think people who manage feedlots would be interested in sending employees, to learn. When I was a kid in the early 1990’s I worked in a feedlot, checking pens and working cattle and the owner sent the feedlot crew to Vee Tee Feeders at Lloydminster for a 3-day course Bud Williams was teaching. That was my first exposure to his method of handling cattle and it was incredible.

“There was a small group at this year’s event, from one of the local feedlots. I know that Bud Williams’ methods made a big difference for me when I was working at a small feedlot.  It had small pens there were no horses; you had to walk everything out. We walked through the cattle and had dogs, and f you were going about this all wrong, you’d walk a lot of miles without getting anything done.”  It can also stress the cattle a lot more and run pounds off them, he said.

“Bud’s method works so much better—getting the animal to bend to your will by making it their idea. It’s a lot like training a horse.”

Having the opportunity to learn from Dawn Hnatow (who learned directly from Bud and Eunice Williams) was also plus. “Her passion, wisdom and way of teaching is an exceptional opportunity and we are lucky to have someone like her continuing Bud William’s legacy,” Smith said. “Learning and participating in clinics like this will be very beneficial to lead the way for improvements in animal care in our cattle industry. When handled properly, cattle develop trust and respect and not fear – which brings a wealth of positive results including better weight gains, less sickness, easy gathers, efficient corral work and happier stockmen.”

Horseback category

In the horseback category this year, Smith was the winner. “I was second to last to compete and the cattle were getting hot and tired and less responsive.  There were only a couple things I did different from everybody else.  People who think that low stress handling is non-assertive and you always have to handle cattle with kid gloves don’t really understand it,” he said.  You must be as assertive as the cow needs, for her to make the right decision.

“I came into the arena more assertive and was able to get my cattle to move. As humans, we generally don’t think outside the box. In this competition everyone wanted to loop around the cows and drive them right to the gate, so I just went straight at them and ran them down the wall under the judges and got a handle on them—so they were moving the way I wanted them to. I did something different with them and then was able to take them where I wanted, and pen them, after I had their attention.”

A person needs to read the cattle and respond accordingly. Sometimes what looks like the easiest way to get a job done isn’t the way to do it, if you are not paying attention to the cattle and what they need you to do in order to make them think it’s their idea.

“These cattle were really slow in the alley, and we were supposed to sort them in the alley, but I could tell they were tired and bored; they just stalled in the corner,” he said. “So I moved them up and down the alley to get them loosened up and awake. Then I had to let them back out and put them through a Bud Box, and then run one back in. I chose the one in my group that was actually ‘alive’ and would pay attention. Someone else might have thought, ‘That’s the wild one; why would he pick it?’ 

“Most people had to bring the group almost right to the gate and try to get one out into the alley. The cattle were all at the gate so I thought I’d try to be the only guy that can get one by itself all the way down, and I was able to do that. There were lots of competitors who were really good, and I don’t think I was that much better; I just did things nobody else did; most of them were not assertive enough. Some were more timid; maybe they hadn’t worked a lot of cattle or were worried about getting in trouble if a cow moves too fast.” They didn’t want to overdo it, so they didn’t do enough.

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