Hillsborough Limousins

Graeme and Val Wicks

Hillsborough method of breaking in.

It has been suggested that Graeme should exhibit his method of breaking cattle in for the show ring and I immediately thought 'web page?'.

When we broke in young cattle for the first time we 'threw' a halter on, tied the animal to a rail and watched with consternation as it set about trying to destroy itself and anything in its path. The resulting swelling and skin lesions on the jaw bone was so severe it took weeks to heal so we knew something had to change. Graeme has broken a lot of horses during his time in the Kimberly and he figured it might be worth trying a similar method with cattle. After all, the majority of horses can be controlled by the fingertips. It's been so successful, many have commented as he leads five or six animals single handed across the show grounds.

This is what we do: 


The animal is run into the crush and secured.

A sturdy chain (approximately large dog chain size) with D shackles on either end is placed around the animal's neck and fastened with the D Shackle. (D Shackles can be fiddly but are much stronger than clips). The shank of the D shackle must pass through a link of the chain in order to avoid it becoming a slip knot and choking the animal. The chain is fastened sufficiently firm so it won't slip over the head when the animal struggles but not so tight as to restrict breathing. A lead rope is attached  to the end of the chain giving the advantage of greater lengthto work with.

Once the chain has been properly placed, it is secured to a post in the race (not to a rail) and the animal is backed out of the crush. The chain is continually shortened up until it's long enough to allow the animal to lie down without hanging itself but not long enough to allow it to jump the rails. It is then rubbed and scratched from head to tail (the animal, not the chain!) If the beast has not been handled before, it will usually lunge away but can only move backwards or forwards. In both instances, it hits the end of the chain hard and quickly learns its limitations.



When the animal stops fighting the chain and stands reasonably quiet when scratched, it's untied from the race and allowed  to back out  into a small 'forcing' pen. This is where the extra length of rope attached to the chain comes in. The rope is quickly secured to a post and the animal is pulled up short until it is tied sufficiently close to allow it to lie down but not jump rails. It will most likely begin the struggle again as it realises it is now free to move from side to side as well as back and forth. While ever it struggles, pressure is only exerted on the muscle of the neck, not on the jawbone. 




When the animal allows itself to be approached in this greater space without excessive reaction, it's released from the rail and allowed to move around the forcing pen. If it yields and 'faces up' when the chain is pulled, the battle is won. If it refuses to yield and continues pulling away, it needs to be tied up for a longer duration and encouraged to test the chain more thoroughly. Animals that are quiet or have been handled previously may not fight the chain so should be encouraged to do so if possible.  Do not use any painful procedures to achieve this aim. If they won't test the chain in a restricted area, they will most likely make a bolt for it when they are coached into a big yard for water. This will help them understand they can't beat the chain (see step 4)


When comes the time to take the animal to the trough for a drink Graeme will pick up the lead rope, open the gate, walk out in front of the animal and quickly secure the rope to the gate post . If the beast rushes out, it hits the end of the chain and is snapped back to 'face up'. The chain is then loosed and the animal allowed to move to the trough. Once it's had its drink, it's encouraged to move forwards by the leader positioning himself  in its 'flight zone' between the shoulder and rump.  Standing in front of an animal and trying to pull it forward only encourages the beast's natural instinct to pull backwards, standing behind it's shoulder persuades it to move away from the leader but in the right direction - forward. If the beast has learned to yield properly, a pull on the chain will bring it around to face up and stop. If it is still reluctant to yield, more time on the chain is necessary.


Once the beast is tractable with the neck chain in the yard, it's time to move to the halter. The animal is run back up the race, haltered and let back into the forcing pen. It's tied up again by both the halter shank and neck chain, making sure the chain is slightly shorter than the halter shank. This ensures no injury to the jaw occurs if the animal tries to pull away. Progressively, the neck chain and halter shank will be tied to the same length so minimum weight will be brought to bear on the jaw if the animal pulls. The thick neck muscle continues to take the brunt of any struggle to escape. Once the animal is settled with this new procedure, it is let into a bigger yard as in Step 4. The leader can then repeat the rest of step 4 using both halter shank and neck chain to maintain control.


The neck chain can now be removed and the animal allowed to roam, dragging the halter shank. When it stands on the shank, it learns what the pull on the chin means but without human interference, it's not fighting and causing injury to itself. Bring the animal back to the yard in the evenings for feed and water and tie it up for the night.


Graduation day! The animal is led to its paddock, the halter removed. It's breaking-in is done. If a refresher course is necessary, it can be brought back a few days before a show. However, we've found cattle broken in this way don't need much, if any further work. It is a good idea to make sure you are breaking in more than one animal at a time. A lone animal can be more difficult to manage and cattle are 'herd' animals.


If showing cattle, we make sure we have at least two head and work them together all the time. If cattle are mates, they are generally much more settled. If one breaks away, it will generally stay close to its friends and be a lot easier to catch.

Disclaimer: No rules are hard and fast and nothing that has been written on this web page should be taken as infallible. Working with cattle involves risk and every beast should be treated with caution. Anyone wishing to try this method of breaking in does so at their own risk.  Hillsborough Limousins will not be held accountable for any mishaps that may occur.

This video is poor quality accompanied by a great deal of noise. Better to view it with sound muted.

More photos will be attached as the cattle move into their halters.

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