Sunday, April 29, 2018

Side By Side Animal Impact/Vegetation Comparisons

All of these pictures were taken the same day, in the same pasture. There are only 38 cows and a bull (plus calves) which get adjusted once a week at the most (and have gone up to 3 months without being adjusted when I am out of the area.) These pictures show the difference herd impact and proper grazing can have on the land.
At first glance, this picture is only showing a few weeds and wildflowers. The area happens to be in 
an area where I stopped the cattle on one of the times they were moved. If you look close at the ground, you will see it is a combination of a smooth surface which is crusted so that the rain runs off it, and areas where that crust has been broken by the cattle so that more water is absorbed. Looking a little more closely, you will notice that the vast majority of the plants are in the area where the crust has been broken. The line between where the cattle were stopped for a short amount of time and where they didn't cross is clearly marked by the green  

The picture below to the right shows the difference between plants which have been grazed (somewhat) properly, and those which have been over rested. The grey grass in the background is dying due to over rest, and a lack of being grazed. The grass in the foreground was grazed late in the season, and taken a bit shorter than I would like, it is green and growing because it was grazed despite the fact there has been less than a half inch of rain in the last 5 months. If this area would have had enough animal impact, and been grazed evenly, ALL the grass in this picture would be green and healthy rather than being oxidized and dying.vegetation.
This grass was grazed at the right height and given enough recovery time. Notice how the dormant grass is a golden yellow (signifying it is healthy and alive rather than dead) and the new growth is nearly a foot tall. 

This last picture is an area which the cattle worked as a herd last year and grazed it properly. Once again, the dormant grass is a vibrant yellow instead of being dull, gray, and dead. This has allowed the grass to green up and thrive a month or more earlier than under grazed or overgrazed areas, despite the lack of rain. In addition, the herd impact of breaking the top crust has allowed weeds to emerge and begin the healing process on the bare ground.
Over resting the ground is as bad for the ground as overgrazing, and set stock, or simple rotational grazing results in both extremes. For more resources on regenerating grass, visit the grass management resources page on Migratory Grazing

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Working Cows Podcasts

I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by Clay Conry for his 24th podcast on This brainchild is turning into a wonderful series of podcasts from people in the industry including Fernando Falomir (who graciously suggested my interview), and better known people such as Doctor Trey Patterson, Dave Pratt, Aaron Berger, Jim Gerrish, and others. This is one series of podcasts that everyone in the ranching industry should subscribe to!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cows Are Cows No Matter What "Special Circumstances" There Are

Cows are cows. No matter where you go in the world, people will use their terrain or genetics as the reason why they "have" to do things the way they do.  In the last couple of weeks I was privileged to give IMG schools at the Flying W Ranch out of Cedar Point, Kansas a second one on the Justin Rader Ranch for the Hemphill County Agrilife Committee. While the two operations were completely different, the herd instinct was close enough to complete in both herds that the ranchers should have no problem going forward, in spite of the fact the cattle were handled in the same way on both ranches.

The Flying W herd was in just over 2,000 acres, with several dams, and also draws with water. In day one, the herd was scattered, and would graze between stands of ironweed, ragweed, sumac, and locust without eating the grass within these stands, let alone browse the actual plants. By the last day, not only were the cattle grazing the grass in these weeds, they were also browsing them, as evidenced in this picture of where they bedded down on the 4th night.

At the end of the school we sent the cattle down a draw containing a lot of brush and weeds. They dropped into the draw and grazed their way to the other end, eating not only grass, but also brush and weeds. Although there were only 120 pair in this herd, the added density from their herd behavior increased the herd impact from a previous estimate of 10,000 pounds per acre to between 100,000 and 200,000 pounds per acre (depending on density of feed to pull the cattle together)

When the cattle were done with this draw, they began grazing back up the side of the hill, and for one last practice of taking cattle through the brush, we sent them through the top end of the draw and on a grazing path down the fence, where we ended the school. It is now going to be a simple process of placing the cattle to graze on the paths they want within the pasture to prevent re-grazing from taking place.

The second school outside Canadian, Texas was a completely different scenario. I stopped by the ranch to check on the situation on my way to the Flying W. The owner had begun multi paddock grazing and informed me that his cattle were drinking at noon and six pm (which I thought was an odd watering schedule.) The morning of my visit there were cows and calves in the waterlot, with cows outside the waterlot, and many (if not most) of the cows bawling, despite the fact no one was doing anything with them. After a few minutes, the cattle in the waterlot left to lay down and ruminate, while the rest of the cattle scattered out across their 20 acre paddock to resume grazing, as shown in the picture below.
They had turned the cattle into the 30 acre (CRP)paddock we would be working in the evening before the school began. Despite the fact the cattle had only been in the previous 30 acre paddock two days, they had already begun to take a second bite from plants while avoiding others as in the following picture.

While the cattle responded to the change in handling as the previous set in Kansas, there was a problem in getting them synchronized as a herd into drinking at the same time. The portable system only had a 40 gallon storage with a 10 gpm flow which meant the cattle were going to water at least 8 times a day. On the third day we turned off this system, and ran a hotwire across the end of the previous pasture so we could take them to it through the pens. On the fourth day they dropped from 8 times to water to one, with a few cows in between going to water on their own, yet returning to the herd. On the 5th morning when we were ready to change to the next 30 acre paddock, there was very little evidence of second bites being taken, as in the next picture. 

We had a concern when turning cattle into the next pasture that they might start re-grazing the first pasture as (on top of not being synchronized on a drinking schedule) they were having to go back through the first pasture to water, and past the only shade tree available. However the next morning, this is how they were grazing when I left.

After three days of travelling back and forth to water with no supervision the cattle began hanging up at the shade tree in the first pasture, then started back grazing, looser than desired but still following each other around the pasture. All in all, in spite of the lack of synchronization on water this wasn't a bad start. The next few pastures the cattle will not have to pass back through a pasture to water, and will have enough capacity for them to all water at one time. In the case the cattle are still not synchronized on water, after weaning he will be able to drylot the cattle for a day to take care of that problem. After that, it won't take much effort to complete herd instinct to the point they will migrate around his pastures to maximize his herd impact.

On an added note, a student from the Flying W school went home and successfully instilled herd instinct into the cattle he is working with. He let me know that because of the changes he has made in his techniques, that his last pasture move went smoother and easier by himself than it did when he had four people helping him.

Three different situations, with three different set of cows, all with different "problems," yet there was scarcely a difference in their end behavior. That is because cows are cows, and when you treat them right, the problems fade away. 
For more information, visit my website.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

IMG (Instinctive Migratory Grazing) in the Chihuahuan Desert

Instinctive Migratory Grazing in the Chihuahua Desert

At the turn of the last century, Chihuahua Desert was a lush grassland. Today, as a result of poor grazing practices, the area is extremely dry, desolate, with large tracts of land amounting to no more than bare ground and brush.
Low areas are often so choked with mesquite it may be difficult at best to ride through on a horse, and impassible in a vehicle. It is not uncommon for ranchers in this desolate area to supplement cattle for half the year, while weaning calves at only three or four months of age.

   Ten years ago, the Santa Maria Cattle Company changed to holistic grazing in an attempt to regenerate grass. However the fencing it normally takes for this style of grazing was nearly impossible due to the mesquite choked bottoms and rough, rocky higher country. It just wasn't physically or economically feasible to break their 20,000 acres into more than 80 small paddocks. Four years ago, owner Fernando Falomir attended a school where he learned to reboot herd instinct in his cattle. 
Now he is regenerating grass by utilizing IMG, or Instinctive Migratory Grazing. When turned into a fresh pasture, the cattle migrate around the pasture as a herd. Rather than grazing some areas to the ground, while leaving other areas untouched, the pastures are grazed so that nothing is grazed to less than six inches tall, as in this picture.
During the growing season, this allows for a faster recovery. To truly understand how much this method of grazing affects soil health and regenerates grass, one needs to realize two things about the grass in this picture. First is that only four years ago, this spot was bare ground. The second, and even more astounding thing is that this is volunteer coastal Bermuda, which is greening up in April, despite the fact there has been no rain for seven months. Cattle with their herd instinct rebooted, have another tendency which further speeds up the improvement of soil health. They tend to bed down together, heavily concentrating the urine and manure. This in turn feeds the mycorrhizal fungi,which feeds the plants and other microorganisms needed for healthy soil. 
To accomplish the kind of herd impact in this picture would normally require building temporary electric fence and forcing the cattle into it for the night, which causes stress which effects daily gains. However, with IMG, the cattle naturally bed down in these areas and create the impact voluntarily, improving soil health without the expense,labor, or decreasing the daily gains. In the top portion of this picture you can see where grasses and forbes are in the first stages of transgression.

  Within a few years this area will heal and be like this next picture, regenerated prairie, which was bare ground and creosote brush five years ago.
This transformation took place solely through planned, timed grazing, utilizing the instinctive migratory behavior of cattle, once they have had their herd instinct re-booted. No chemicals were added to kill brush and weeds, or as added fertilizer. The grass grew from the natural seed bank already in the ground. As the dirt turns into healthy soil, and the grass is regenerated, the hydrology of the ground changes. When the ground is bare, and soil dead, half or more of all rainfall runs off, eventually ending up in the ocean, rather then in the ground. A short thunderstorm dropping an inch of rain will lose over 12,000 gallons an acre. When soil health and grasses are restored, the same one inch of rain will be taken into the soil. In turn, this not only allows you to grow more grass with less precipitation, it helps recharge groundwater tables, it can also bring back springs which have been dry for decades.

The family bought this ranch in the late 1800's, and as far as anyone alive today is aware, this has never been more than a seasonal wet spot. Now that the soil is healthy, and the grass is regenerating, it has turned into their “Redneck water park,” and is open year round.

Holistic planned grazing using herd instinct and IMG is allowing this ranch to increase it's carrying capacity, without need the expense of extra fencing and labor. The cattle stay in good condition year round without needing any supplements other than loose mineral and seas salt. 

For more information visit my website, or order a copy of the Stockmanship 101 dvd from Amazon!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How Important is "Non-selective Grazing?"

Many of the grazing gurus of the planned grazing methods make a big issue over needing cattle to graze in a non-selective manner. I have to admit, I've done my share to add to the confusion, so now it is time to (try) and clear up the muddy waters.

Much of our feeling that selective grazing is bad is due to the ultra-selectivity used by cattle in a set stock situation. They get so selective that they go back and re-graze individual plants they grazed a couple of weeks earlier, so that those plants never get a chance to fully recover, while they completely ignore plants of the same variety only inches away. As a result, fewer plants are able to reach some semblance of a full recovery.

The cycle starts again the following growing season with those plants which "fully recovered" greening up first, followed by the surviving overgrazed plants, with those which were not grazed greening up last.  These  plants which were not grazed the previous year will very likely go un-grazed again and begin to oxidize and slowly die, a blade or two at a time.  The cycle repeats with plants being either over grazed or under grazed until weeds start appearing as the grass dies off.

While this overly selective grazing is a bad thing, a certain amount of selective grazing is actually necessary. Different grasses and browse plants mature and are ready to be grazed at different times. In our efforts to mimic the wild herds we have forgotten this aspect, as well as the fact that the large wild herds have always come together and fallen apart depending on the time of year, and abundance of feed and water. While high animal density and non-selective grazing is beneficial while grazing irrigated pasture, under range conditions we need to know when to use it, and have the flexibility to to adjust for those times when, nutritionally, the cattle to be highly concentrated or slightly spread out to take advantage of the higher quality forage which may not be highly concentrated, especially on desertified, degenerated rangeland.

A good example would be a pasture which has a large stand of tabosa or alkali sacaton in part of it while other parts of the pasture is made up of a variety of sparse grasses and browse. I order to get optimal nutritional benefit of the tabosa and alkali sacaton, the cattle will need to be highly concentrated. In conditions where there is a large mono culture (or a wide diversity of plants ready to be grazed) we are looking for, and need them to practice non-selective grazing.

In these conditions, if their herd instinct has been rebooted, they will close together in strips. Unlike when they are being forced into non-selective grazing with fences, the cattle will not graze to the ground, but leave half to two thirds of the plant. Leaving half to two thirds of the plants allows for faster recovery of the plants, and overall, more animal grazing days per acre, and a higher average daily gain on cattle.

Conversely,  when the cattle are grazing a minimal pasture it is highly unlikely that one will be able to accurately judge the amount of feed the cattle will receive.  There is a 90%+ probability that cattle being forced into non-selective grazing under these conditions will lose weight instead of gain, even if protein supplements are added.  Rebooting herd instinct and placing cattle to migrate these marginal areas will allow them to select enough of the plants they need to maintain condition while making enough impact to begin regenerating the soil and grass. Even if feed density requires that the cattle migrate through fifty or even a hundred feet apart, it is still more than enough impact to stimulate the microorganisms in the soil and new forage growth.

In nature, the "large herds of herbivores" we are trying to mimic only occur for a short amount of time each year; when there is enough grass and water for the herds to habitat in an ultra high density. The rest of they year they are scattered to fit feed and water availability, while selectively grazing plants with the highest nutritional value. In nature, availability of water will play at least a big of factor in herd size as feed. By providing an adequate water supply year round, we are allowing them to stay closer together, actually creating more positive animal impact to the soil biology than in nature.

By allowing cattle to graze selectively while migrating through pastures during the dormant season, we are actually creating the conditions to regenerate cool season browse and grasses. At the same time, rather than forcing them to graze non-selectively, your cattle come closer to meeting their nutritional requirements, lowering, or even eliminating the need for supplemental feeding.

Determining when you need the cattle to practice non-selective grazing, or spread out and graze selectively is simple once their instinct to act as a herd is rebooted. They will tell you what is needed as they are grazing. All you have to do is place them on their grazing path and they will instinctively do the rest on their own as you migrate them through your grazing plan.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Instinctive Migratory Grazing (IMG) on the Chihuahua Desert

     Last week I had the privilege to be part of a group visiting the Santa Maria Cattle Company in Chihuahua, Mexico. Owner Fernando Falomir was a student at my first low stress stockmanship school in Mexico, and has been practicing the methods for several years. His description of how they were practicing regenerative ranching on 10,000 acres with only 17 pastures was that the cattle "instinctively migrate around the pasture." His description finally gave me the name for what we accomplish when we reboot herd instinct in cattle. "Instinctive Migratory Grazing," or "IMG" for short. The training video to teach you the basics in achieving this kind of grazing results is available on Amazon.

The following video will show you just how amazing their results are.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Is it really "Just what cows do?"

  "Thats just what cows do."

I first heard those words uttered when I was ten years old, after asking why cattle scatter out to graze, rather than grazing as a group like the sheep and goats did. Fifty three years later I am still hearing those same words repeated ad infinitum.  This phrase is used to describe everything from grazing patterns, to the way cattle handle (or don't handle,) or why cattle don't pair up, to why cattle crawl through fences and why they are so wild.

   This phrase is ignores the fact that these behaviors only apply to the situation the cattle are in, rather than cattle in general. Cattle behavior is directly linked to their environment. Our behavior in handling them is one of the biggest environmental factors to cattle behavior, yet it is also the last one we look at. Also, much of our beliefs on cattle behavior is dependent upon how, when, and the number of groups of cattle we observe.

How...All to often we limit our of observation of cattle to the cursory once over without really thinking about how the cattle are behaving...after all, they are behaving "normally," so why look any deeper? As long as cattle are not walking the pasture, or distributing behavior we deem to be irregular, we don't give it a second thought. If we are not observing and asking ourselves what the motivation is behind what they are doing, we aren't learning why they are doing it.

When...The time of day is going to have something to do with how the cattle are behaving. One observation we seldom make, is how do cattle behave when they are going to water, or back out to graze. Most of us are used to our cows calling to their calves when we start a move, and look at that as a thing that "good cows just do." If we would take the time to observe cattle as they are leaving water on their own, we would see that these same cows seldom call for their calves.

Now, if we change how we are observing the cattle, and combine our two observations, we might ask ourselves why their behavior is different. Hopefully, we will also recognize that the difference in behavior is stress related, and ask ourselves if there is anything we can do differently to alleviate this behavior.

Numbers of groups...I am talking people as well as cattle. If we work with the same cattle constantly, and the same people, or people who work in the same way, it clouds our knowledge. We think of the behavior of cattle as simply "thats what cattle do" and forget that cattle are only reacting directly to what we are doing. When we change our behavior, they will change theirs.

Be sure and visit my website for more information on regenerative grazing, cattle behavior, and stockmanship schools.