Low-stress sheep handling taught in a tranquil setting

A couple dozen people, both local and from out of state, attended a "Low-Stress Sheep Handling Clinic" put on by Paicines Ranch
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About 28 people came to Paicines Ranch for a low-stress sheep handling class Dec. 3. Paicines Ranch hosts a unique collection of courses throughout the year, typically oriented toward smaller-scale agriculture and food production.

Sheep handler Curt Pate taught the group a little about the art of reading and handling livestock. He told the group that he finds moving animals an “incredible” experience and used humor and real life experiences to get his training points across. 

Paicines Ranch, located in Paicines hosted the all-day “Low-Stress Sheep Handling Clinic” which was broken into three parts including a lecture, demonstration in a structured environment, followed by a hands-on experience in the field for participants to practice what they had learned.

Attendees ranged from locals wanting to try out low-stress sheep handling techniques with their flocks, to people from as far away as Ohio and Virginia starting new careers late in life. Jessie Maier, assistant livestock manager of Paicines Ranch said people were drawn to this event with Pate because “he’s an amazing, articulate speaker,” who is able to share his expertise through, “his style of speaking and storytelling and then after lunch being able to run the sheep with him”.

Pate took the time to discuss creating a higher quality of life for livestock, understanding how to read animals, identifying and practicing the appropriate amount of pressure while herding, and developing good stockmanship habits. During the lecture portion of the day, Pate said that “stockmanship is not very structured” and that it is, “always dynamic and changing”. Pate told the group, “We have to watch the animal and what it’s telling us to do and adjust." This observation is important when trying to learn the appropriate amount of pressure, or amount of space between you and the animal.Getting in too close can cause an overreaction and unnecessary anxiety. Too little pressure may mean no reaction at all. “Proper pressure is what stockmanship is all about," Pate said.

Using “cowboy science,” ­­Pate said that to become a great herder one must not “create fear” for animals. “When an animal or human is forced to do things it is stressful. When an animal or human are not forced to do something, its low stress,” Pate said. He further shared, “When an animal is in the reacting or survival part of their brain they aren’t retaining things,” and as a result it is important to avoid common mistakes of, “either too much pressure,” or being, “late with our remedies”. When applying pressure to animals, participants were taught, “Don’t think too much. When you think too much you delay pressure. Don’t think too much until you are out of the pressure zone”. Pate explained the appropriate amount of pressure needed varies, based on the animals and situation at the time, “the better trained your animals are at taking pressure, the easier it is to put on the right type of pressure. That’s what stockmanship is about”. Clinic participants were able to see these concepts put in action by Pate in both a closed -n environment and then while out in the field applying the concepts themselves.

Glen McGowan, who attended the course, has border collie dogs, sheep, and goats. He said, "I have the sheep and goats to train my dogs” and he attended the training because he is always “looking for ways to improve training."  Throughout the day, participants expressed a deep interest in understanding the proper care and handling of animals. Paicines Ranch's Maier said that the workshop allowed everyone to get comfortable with the sheep while giving them confidence by getting in a little "low-stress" practice using “those basic building blocks" communicated by Pate.


Note: Sallie Calhoun and Matt Christiano, owners of Paicines Ranch are BenitoLink donors. As a policy, BenitoLink does not accept editorial influence because of funding. Please review our Terms of Use to learn more about our editorial policy in relation to sponsors and donors. 

Becky Bonner

Becky Bonner is a local teacher at San Benito High School who is passionate about sharing things to do in San Benito County.