Think Like a Cow

OR: How to load a single cow into a stock trailer.

I have been mulling this post over for a few weeks now.  Thinking like a cow. Because often when we have to move an animal somewhere strange,  (like into a stock trailer) or across dangerous terrain (like concrete covered in a sheet of ice, or just into a new field it is very useful to actually think like that animal. I am very glad to be able to inform you that I can think like a cow.

Yesterday Queenie Wineti our big beautiful Hereford cow sold for $1,800 dollars and was loaded into a stock trailer  and driven away by a very nice man.  And so ends the era of Daisy and Queenie. This all came about very quickly. It was a bit sad for me but better for Queenie in the long run.

So I had to think like a cow to get her loaded without stress.

So here is what I know about cows. Cows do not like to go places by themselves.  Cows see out of  the sides of their heads and often see better when they lower their heads.  Cows will not try to escape through a solid wall. Cows like to follow other cows. Cows do NOT like to be pushed. If you try to push a cow from behind she will walk backwards. Cows like to have a look through the door way before proceeding. They like to see where they are going. Cows are not graceful in small spaces. Cows do not like to step up. Cows will not step over a dark area on the ground. Cows like food. Cows can be trained to repond to verbal calls or visual stimuli like a bucket. A cow will turn and face a threat.  Cows need to be able to see ahead. If a cow gets a fright, she stays frightened for a long time.  A cow does not like to have a dog behind her where she cannot see them. If a cow has a bad experience the first time it can take her months to get that memory out of her head. So I need to make sure to get it right the first time.

Most of all I have learned that if you miss a step in your preparation and your cow gets spooked and backs away from your trailer you are going to have a hard time loading her. You may as well go inside and make a cup of tea. I know from experience that I cannot be too prepared. I have to think like a cow. (Of course if I am loading a pig I have to think like a pig too or a sheep.. though I find it very hard to think like a cat).queenie-017

The first thing I do is walk the pathway we will follow in my mind. Mapping the whole task out in pictures.  If you take your brain for a walk like this you will often see the hazards that your beast may encounter.  Make sure you walk it at the animals height. Then I walk it physically to make sure there is nothing in the races that will upset her at all. I keep them calm through the whole procedure.  I am 120 pounds. Queenie is about 1600 pounds. She has to want to do what I want her to do or we are not going to be doing anything at all.

My cows are always loaded from Sheila’s door.  (I will tell you why in a minute) So first I take the pigs for a walk to another pen for the duration of the loading period. Then I lock up TonTon (he likes to round animals up – so he often gets ahead of the cow which is not what I wanted yesterday) and then I lock the kittens up so they don’t get under wheels. Then I put oats into two buckets. One bowl goes into the trailer a good cows length inside. The other one is in my hand.

I take my long blue crook,  a small leaf of good hay, my bucket -tell Boo to “get Queenie.” (so he knows it is her we are moving)  and then I bring in the cow. I call  to Queenie. (It is incredibly useful to have your animal trained to a call). We get to the gate, using the stick to deflect the other cows I open the gate and throw the hay where I want her to walk.  Boo walks up behind her. “Move her up Boo” I call, Boo woofs once, shows her heel his teeth and very smartly she is through the gate and that gate is shut before any other cows know there is food about.

Then I pick up the hay and put it in my bucket, call Boo to MY heel  and we parade down the race on the North side of the barn (it was wickedly cold yesterday morning) around the East side into the pigs run – calling to Queenie to follow. (I call to the cows with the same voiice every time i feed them so they always come when I call). With Queenie following I walk into Sheila’s bedroom and give her the hay again, with some oats sprinkled on top. Then I shut the door behind her. With the door shut it is darker, the dimness is calming for animals and she is used to the smell of pigs.

After that, yesterday, I quickly walked back around the barn and fed the two Dutchies in their inner pen where Queenie could see them and then shut the front doors of the barn as well, leaving it extra dim and quiet.  Everything was done in a relaxed and gentle way.

I always leave the animal I am loading out of sight inside the barn until I get the trailer backed up and the motor turned off.

This is why I load cows (and sheep and pigs) from Sheila’s door. Loading one animal is always more difficult that loading a herd. And you only get one chance at doing it gently.queenie-009

So,  we have to make sure the animal walks exactly where we want her to walk. The pigs yard gate opens inwards past Sheila’s door creating a barrier. (The trailer is backed up to the opening where the gate was,  effectively blocking it off, nowhere to go but up). John holds the gate. He is told to not make a sound. The man who was transporting Queenie holds the door open to his trailer and is instructed to stand behind it and not make a sound not even to move his feet.  Then I fill any gaps between the trailer and  the barn, or the fence, with big pieces of paneling.  Once all the holes are plugged with my pretend walls, I get my bucket and open Sheila’s door so the cow can come out.  She always looks out first, sees me and my bucket and then she steps out and they always turn right, always, their left eye sees a wall and Johns gate and without fail they gently move out to their right and in three steps are at the trailer bed with Johns gate gliding behind but not touching.

With Queenie following I back up into the trailer. I  stay to the side so the cow can see past me and call and hold out the oats and apples and feed them in. Every step they take they get food as a reward. Every command I give the men or the dog is in the same sing song voice. I let her eat then move back a little, let her eat again, you cannot back up with the food too fast, they have to know they can eat the food. One hoof up on the trailer bed, two legs  up and without a sound the gates and the door are closing behind her.  So if she turns she only sees a wall. Then she sees the big bucket of feed inside the trailer and she stretches for it and at the right moment (and this only works once) I call “Move her up” to Boo who has been waiting behind her, he barks, darts at her heel again and the cow dances up into the trailer from that little fright. Then the door is closed and the cows head is in the bucket having a munch.

All done in about two minutes.

Sometimes the men think it is funny to lock the trailer  doors and pretend they don’t know I am in with the cow!

Thank you, Queenie Wineti.  I say to my good old cow.  Off you go and be good.


And off she went.  Without a backward glance I have to say. The money raised from her sale will be used to buy one or hopefully two young heifer Hereford calves in the spring. So sad that she could not get pregnant again here. She is sure to have better luck in a bigger herd.  There you are.  I know. I know. Not a zoo.


I hope you are having a lovely day.

Your friend on the farmy,



60 Comments on “Think Like a Cow

  1. Ahh bye bye queenie wineti like you said another chapter closes, but onwards and upwards! I think you must have nerves of steel, I’m sure I would be so nervous at getting something wrong that it would be picked up by the animals and that would be that. x

  2. Goodbye Queenie.I hope that you will continue to have a happy life with your new owner…we shall remember you because you were a cute cow with character just like all the other Farmy animals…but as MIss C says it is a working farm and every animal must earn their keep…unfortunately you could not pay your dues….lots of love

  3. whoops forgot to say how imopressed I ma with Miss C’s method of loading an animal…perfect! In every possible way….. Just like Mary Poppins

  4. well blow me down with a feather..I made two comments and both disappeared….
    Firstly adios to Queenie..have a happy life with your new owner. I shall remember you always xxx
    Secondly what a good job Miss C made of loading you into the trailer…you can see that she knows her job
    love to all

  5. Bye Bye Queenie – you will be missed! Hope you find some great friends where you are going and a boyfriend that treats you well.

  6. A great horse trainer, John Lyons, has a saying that I repeat as a mantra to myself whenever I am in a situation that could go either way, “If you act like you only have 15 minutes, it will take you all day. If you act like you have all day, it will only take you 15 minutes.” It is amazing how that mentality changes everything, and whatever task at hand, whether it is loading a mule into a trailer, herding chickens back to the coop, or training my silly Malinois, it makes me slow down and think clearly, and get the job done without frustration. Your methodical approach to loading Queenie to go to her new home was a perfect example of putting that mantra into practice.

  7. Boo is becoming quite the helper with your excellent training. Beautiful story. You’re right. Planning is everything. Shame on the men for locking you into the trailer. Silly boys. Goodbye Queenie Wineti, be well and happy with your herd.

  8. Beautifully done. Calmly, quietly, kindly, but with despatch. No impatience from anyone, no shouting, banging or whacking. The perfect example of how it should be done. And you’re sending off a well trained, healthy cow who needs a little liveliness and competition to raise her game. She was a beautiful, gentle woolly girl, and you did her proud. We’re all sorry to see her go, and excited to find out what’s next. But I have to tell you, I’m dying to know how Sheila thinks and how you get her to do things (apart from the obvious food lures, of course….).

    • Yes, shouting and wacking is never fun, not for anyone, though if you are running a herd and welll aimed shout will move the whole lot. One animal alone can go either way.. morning Kate!.. c

  9. With kindness and respect till the end 🙂 Bye bye Queenie, sad to see you go. Laura

  10. there are days that boo is worth his weight in gold.
    makes up all the aggrivation he puts u through.

  11. Great to hear that all went well. I am sure that Queenie will have a wonderful life in her new herd.

    It really does pay to take your time with animals. Whenever we are going to “do something” with any of our goats, I always go up alone and pen them, or halter them, or whatever, and then my husband knows to come up a little after if I am needing a hand. Whenever they see him, they know something’s up, and we may as well just forget about it if I don’t already have them where they need to be!

    • Amen to that! Daisy was a classic for it. if she saw john she KNEW there was going to be an injection of some kind, (poor thing was always being treated one way or the other) and for days after she would stretch her head in, like an eel and Look round for him before coming in for the mlking. c

  12. Happy trails to you Queenie. I have to tell you about a brilliant character out of Terry Pratchett’s imagination: Roger the bull. He writes: “First, bovines in general have eyes on either side of their heads, looking in nearly opposite directions; second, they’re not very intelligent. These characteristics can cause difficulty for any of them. Rogers is a bull (or Rogers are bulls, from their viewpoint) who can’t handle the problem at all, and thinks he’s/they’re two bulls; one on the left and one on the right. Of course, this is not a useful philosophy.” I’m so glad Queenie is more intelligent than the average Rogers. 😀

  13. Your comment about cows not doing well in small spaces hold true to the saying Bull in a China shop…..

    Queenie will be missed. She has such a pretty shape and face. Boo is doing well I guess in turning into a helper. Love seeing how he is maturing.

  14. I do so appreciate your details and narratives in your posts and am learning so much about animal husbandry. Thank you – and onward to other pastures for Queenie. You amaze me.

  15. Thank you for that lesson in loading cows. I am going to pick up a new sheep today, and will be more thoughtful about the loading and unloading as a result of your post!

  16. You are a compassionate and caring farmer. I wish we had many more like you. There is a lesson to be learned……we should all try to think like the person , animal, or situation we’re dealing with. So long Quennie.

    • Temple Grandin! Yes brilliant! I use her knowlegde with people in my line of work. Job well done cowgirl Ms C.

  17. Interesting to read about your insightfulexperiences. I grew up on a mixed farm ( Ontario, Canada) and loved the animals. My dad was the gentle and spiritual farmer . Mom was such a spunky hard worker involved in everything and her focus on food production was intense. From a child’s point of view it was an interesting mix. My dad and I would spend hours with the animals feeding, cleaning, watching them, enjoying the day…With my mom is was all work, trying new ideas, endless food production of canning, pickling, baking etc…but she was the animal healer as well. She was a natural healer. My realization now is that they were both treasured teachers and I learned so much, cherished it and took it all to heart and mind.

  18. Very well done and a lot of what you said and did applies to horses as well, except for the dog part. It is important to be able to think like the animals you shepherd. I can think like a cat, which is kind of frightening. I hope Queenie Wineti enjoys her new life with a large herd and I’m so glad you could find the right home for her. Still, I know it was a bittersweet day.

  19. This is my favorite subject,animal husbandry in detail. I hope that you will check on how Queenie does in her new family. Will that be possible, or is there an unwritten no-no about that.

    • She has gone to someone I do not know. Every time I sell an animal it shocks me how totally they have left, but that is the way of it I guess. Farming. c

  20. I always love the way you care for your animals!! I have worked on “small” what were called,farrow to finish, hog farms. I shake my my head and ask for forgiveness to a higher being when I think back to those days.
    Thank You!!

  21. ‘One” with your animal. We will miss her and wish her a long life of cow happiness. Looking forward to getting to know the new animals. Boo was such a perfect helper. Good for him.

  22. We are lucky to have a bit of property to work with. So a week or two before loading the animal of choice, we place the trailer in the pen/ field where the animals can get a good look and smell of it. Over the next several days we feed them special treats in the trailer bed. By the time we are needing to move the animal, the pigs or cows are happy to jump into the trailer without fuss or fear. We gently close the door behind them while they happily munch that days treat. Easy-peasy and more importantly, no fear.

    • This is great, I do this with the pigs . except not IN the field or they chew the brake cables and any wires they can find ! ha ha.. they just get access for meal times!.. . it makes everyones life so much easier.. I was just so grateful that Queenie stepped up into a strangers trailer so well.. c

  23. The parting is so much harder for us than it is for the animal. I often marvel about Daisy deer and all of the loss and change in her life from year to year. They’re resilient … it’s about survival, even if on a more domestic level. I hope she will achieve pregnancy on this larger farmstead. I learned a lot about cows today… thanks for the detailed explanation!

  24. That was brilliant. You are a good cow/pig/sheep momma. Did the driver say anything about your skills? He should have.

    I pretty much only think like a cat. I’m baffled by my current dog, but a cat? I sometimes think I can read their minds.

  25. You taught drama for a long time . . . perhaps now you should be teaching animal husbandry: everything thought out step by step! And I am highly impressed at Boo’s ability in the team!

  26. Truly interesting, I think standing back and just observing them is one of the most fascinating things about having animals. I, too, am totally impressed with Temple Grandin. Reading her books has made me pay even more attention to the manners of the different animals and how they react to things. When I’m successful at accomplishing something (like your loading Queenie) it’s an incredible rush. You can learn a lot about people by watching animals.

  27. I like “Animals in Translation” best but “Animals Make Us Human” was good too. They aren’t quick reads, they take some thinkin’! They make me wish I’d studied animal behavior.

  28. You know all the tricks. But it makes such sense Celi .. it will all happen, just keep it quiet, have plenty of food and know your animals well as you do 😀 Goodbye Queenie

  29. What a beautiful description, so full of empathy. You really know how to get inside an animal’s skin. The thing I’m left wondering is, how did you get out?

  30. That seems it would take much longer than two minutes–I was holding my breath the entire time I read the process.

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