Thursday, August 6, 2015

Herd Instinct and Predator/Prey Relationships

The main theory of why grazing animals form large herds is because of pressure from predators. In fact I believe the opposite may be true, that predator behavior is ruled by the behavior of prey animals.

I arrived at this decision through decades of observing the behavior of both wild grazers and cattle.  In learning what it takes for cattle to exhibit herd instinct as the vast herds of the African Savannah, a few glaring facts have emerged.

  1. The ONLY time cattle will graze as a herd is when they have no stress.
  2. The density of a grazing herd is determined by the density of available feed.  When feed is sparse, they may spread out 100 yards between animals. When feed is dense, these same animals will graze within inches of each other.
  3.  Apply enough stress on cattle which are acting as a herd and it will take less than a day for them to scatter far and wide.
  4. When cattle are acting as a herd, they tend to follow the fresh feed in front of them rather than continually grazing in the same small area.
  5. Younger, weaker, and those closest to giving birth are at the back of the herd.

 With these facts in mind, let us look at when the vast herds of the African Savannah form. During the rainy season, when there is abundant feed and water. They move as they graze not from predator pressure, but to keep moving to fresh feed just as domesticated cattle do when they are acting as a herd, grazing or trampling all vegetation in their path.

Once the rainy season has passed, these herds are stressed from less abundant green feed and fresh water, they behave the same domesticated cattle which are acting as a herd do to stress. They scatter out in small groups and go back to selective grazing.

In making these observations it would seem that the herd behavior of grazing animals is dictated not by predators, but the availability of feed and water. This would also mean that, rather than herd behavior being dictated by predator pressure, that predator behavior is dictated by the behavior of grazing animals. Just the opposite of what conventional wisdom has been claiming.

For information on changing cattle behavior to enable following holistic grazing plans without cutting your pastures into small paddocks, visit http://naturalcattlehandlingcom

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Month Long Holistic "Herd Building" Stockmanship Schools

The recently formed partnership between Rodger Savory of Savory Grasslands Management and Jervoise Station, is not only changing the grazing management from conventional to holistic, but also transforming the station into a holistic grazing learning center.

The 70,000 acre Jervoise Station is the first Savory Institute satellite Hub in Australia. For their first educational opportunity, they have invited Bob Kinford to put on three, one month  "Herd Building" stockmanship schools. These schools will be similar to the one sponsored last fall by Queensland Dry Tropics. However the length of these schools will give students a better understanding of not only building herd instinct, but in actually taking the  cattle through a grazing plan without the use of cross fencing.

 In the past, schools were only a week long. While that is long enough to bring herds of 1,000 cows into "herd mode" it was hard for students to break their old habits of conventional stockmanship. These longer schools will give students a chance to break their old habits and establish themselves in a group of elite cattlemen, with a unique set of skills. This will qualify them for employment not only on stations practicing Holistic management in North Queensland, but anywhere in the world this style of grazing is practiced.

For more information on enrolling in these schools, email Jervoise Station. 
 Bob Kinford's website.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Multi-paddock VS Herd Instinct Effeciency/Cost Comparison

This weeks post ties in with my last post of How do you know you are doing a good job? Make no doubt about it, multi-paddock grazing greatly improves the soil while increasing your carrying capacity and your bottom line. Just how does multi-paddock stack up to building  and using herd instinct in your cattle?

The claim is that moving fences is easy, and in many cases, only takes a few minutes. At roughly 3:58 in this video, the man explains that it takes him 18 minutes to run the wire for his electric fence, then he has to move the cows. Later he says he is doing this up to five times a day. That may not sound like much until you start adding up the time.

That is an hour and a half a day or 45 hours a month during the growing season. Where he is, that is roughly 5 months,or 225 hours. Of course this does not take into account drive time, or fixing fence, or the cost involved in posts wire, chargers and moving portable water points etc.

Using herd instinct to his advantage, and increasing his pastures to 100 acres would give him roughly 20 days feed. Time spent to have cattle graze in exactly the same manner would amount to going out once a day to check on the cattle by simply going to the front and having the cattle walk past him would be roughly 20 minutes a day.or the equivalent of 5 work weeks in other professions... Or one and a quarter month's vacation. Even figuring his time at only $10 an hour using herd instinct would save him $2,000 over the course of the growing season in time alone.

So the first question on everyone's mind is "What about herd density?" Not to worry, cattle behaving as a herd will graze at least as tight as when forced into it by fencing, if not tighter as in the following picture.
The above picture is a herd of 528 cows (many with calves) in a 200 acre pasture. They were this tight because they wanted to be this tight, not because they were forced into it. In the long run, the stress reduction of them wanting to be in a tight area vs being forced into one will result in heavier calves adding even more to your bottom line. 
The second question is always "What about back grazing?" Why would there be? Cattle prefer fresh feed. In small pastures they will start on the perimeter and graze around. When they go to water, they will go back to where they left off to resume grazing. Once the have grazed around the pasture, they move in to the next strip on their own, continuing to follow the fresh feed, until there is no more fresh feed. At that time, simply move them into the next field. 
For more information and videos, my website.

Monday, June 8, 2015

How Do You Know You Do A Good Job?

If Bud Williams was even half right with his opinion that "95% of the people who work cattle for a living, have no idea how cattle really work" would mean that roughly half of the ranchers and hired hands have never seen cattle worked right. With that in mind, how sure are you that you are really doing a good job handling cattle? If you haven't seen cattle worked in the right way, then how can you get a clue you aren't doing it as well as you could?

The following is a short list of common problems. If you don't have any of these problems, congratulations, you are doing an excellent job. If you have fewer than four of these problems on a regular basis, you are doing a fairly good job. If you have more than half of these problems, you may be getting the job done, but thinking you are doing a good job is only your ego talking.

1) If you blame the cattle for how they react to you 
2) Your cattle won't stay where you put them
3) You have a lot of herd quitters
4) Cattle won't stay paired when you are driving them
5) Cattle are wild in the pens
6) Cattle won't go by you when sorting
7) You need rattle paddles or flags to sort cattle
8) Cattle can't find the gate
9) Cattle want to run off instead of going into the pens
10) You have areas where it is a foregone conclusion the cattle are going to give you a problem

The first step in getting better at the job is realizing that nearly everything they do is a direct response to how we are handling them in that situation. The second step is realizing that it is often possible to get the reaction you want out of a cow without putting pressure directly on the cow, and learn how to get the desired response without applying more pressure. There are plenty of websites and videos on the internet to help you get started on the right path.

Another difficult area for ranchers to really know how good a job they are doing is in grass management. Once again, if you are only comparing your pastures to your neighbors, chances are you have no idea of how much grass you could really have. NRCS has  drastically changing their grazing recommendations in the last few years as demonstrated in this video.  

The point to all of this is we are all biased to think we are doing a good job on the ranch. But how much room do we have to drastically improve the quality of our work?

It is possible for most ranches to increase the pounds of beef they produce per animal by simply changing the way they handle their cattle. This actually requires less labor than what they are doing now to increase their profits.

The majority of ranches could also increase forage production enough to increase stocking rates by changing how they graze. While the average ranch reduced stocking rates and fed more supplement, other  ranches managed to actually increase forage enough to increase stocking rates while feeding no supplemental feed.

While many ranches judge their overall performance on average weaning weights, the most successful ranches strive for the most pounds of beef marketed per acre. Do you still think you are doing a good job on your ranch? If you think you have room for improvement, visit Natural Cattle Handling for more information as well as other educational links.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Allowing 2,200 Head Of Cattle To Act As A Herd

A recent stockmanship school in Australia allowed me to get much of the footage in this video. The herd included 2,200 head of  branded Brahmas plus around 300 head of unbranded cattle. As participants in this school learned, instilling herd instinct is not a "recipe" you can describe. It is more a matter of changing how we handle cattle and allowing them to come together as a herd.

I need to give a special thanks to Rodger Savory and the folks at NQ Dry Tropics for making this video possible, as well as to my good friend Evelyn A Roper for the background music.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Using Cattle Instinct To Turn Them

One of the things we often forget when handling cattle is that we can use their instincts to our benefit. One of these instincts is for cattle to go around us. When sorting cattle out of a pen, or getting them to go to other cattle in the pasture most of us tend to go to the front of the cow to force them to turn. As this short video shows, this is not necessary.  Using their instinct to go around us lets them turn and go without the stress of us getting in their face.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Underestimation of lost rainwater

If you read my post on Why Climate Change scientists are clueless and were amazed at the amount of water which runs off after a rain, I underestimated it. Actually I grossly underestimated it as the following picture illustrates.

 How much more water would have gone into this ground if cattle were being run as a herd instead of being scattered out? The picture below would have had hundreds of tracks to fill with water instead of just two, which would have captured the water instead of letting it run away.