Saturday, October 20, 2018

Paradigms, Peregrine Falcons, and The Politics of Scientific Evidence

I've always loved acquiring knowledge, but learned at an early age that "facts" spread by research scientists and schools are not always true. Unfortunately, in order to succeed in school, and later in life, you aren't allowed to question the facts. You are indoctrinated to believe that any peer reviewed research is correct...but

You may have read the reading right, but are you sure the one who wrote the reading, wrote the reading right?

When I was in 8th grade there was a picture of a Peregrine falcon on the front page of the paper with a headline declaring that there were only four such birds left in the state of California. This surprised me as we had four of them flying around our house, and I was unaware that anyone had been in the neighborhood to count them. Curious, I called an uncle (who was a federal game warden) who informed me that I was mistaken, and the only such birds in the state were nearly 200 miles away, on the coast. A few weeks later he was visiting and admitted that the birds we had been watching were indeed Peregrine Falcons. The population of this bird had just increased by 100%, yet no public mention was made. Odds are, there were even more of them.

You may have read the reading right, but are you sure the one who wrote the reading, wrote the reading right?

The next year, the first chapter of my biology book stated that browsing animals preferred brush and twigs while cattle preferred grasses and legumes. Naturally (for me) I questioned the teacher about it the next day, because if this were true, deer wouldn't some out at night to graze on lawns and alfalfa fields while cows wouldn't be browsing on acorns, pine-nuts and brush. Of course the teacher corrected me and I received a "D" on my first test because my answers (based on personal observation) didn't agree with what was in the textbook.

You may have read the reading right, but are you sure the one who wrote the reading, wrote the reading right?

The conundrum of scientific "fact" not matching up to observations didn't stop there. A biologist who allegedly conducted a count of deer and elk on a ranch where I worked, concluded that there were no deer or elk on the ranch. I offered to show him two herds of does totaling over 70 head (not including fawns,)  at least a dozen mature bucks, not to mention a couple of small elk herds. Once again, he filed his report and the lie became truth. This was a smaller scale than the "endangered" desert tortoise which removed cattle from grazing permits (although, 70 miles away, in Las Vegas, construction companies had crews following earth moving equipment rescuing said "endangered species" by the tens of thousands...

You may have read the reading right, but are you sure the one who wrote the reading, wrote the reading right?

Now we come to holistic/regenerative grazing. As soon as Alan Savory claimed cattle could be used to regenerate grasslands, academia rushed to disprove it. Although he and others reclaimed millions of acres using his, or similar methods, academia continued to "disprove" his methods, often publishing new "peer reviewed" studies which were basically compiling "evidence" from other studies. For at least the last 80 years, the science behind range management has been peer reviewed opinion that degrading range conditions were the result of over grazing, with no thought given to plants dying from being under grazed, or consideration to the biology of the soils supporting the flora of the range.

Finally in the last few years some scientists are breaking out of the mold and discovering that holistic/regenerative grazing not only works, but that the science behind it is directly tied to the symbiotic relationship plants have with the biology in the soil in which they grow. The science which, so many have base their grazing paradigms on was wrong... Science is dead....Long live science.

You may have read the reading right, but are you sure the one who wrote the reading, wrote the reading right?

Now we come to the current feedlot system of producing beef. Science claims that it is the most efficient model of beef production. These claims are based upon the fact we are producing more pounds of beef with fewer resources. Once again, science has the peer reviewed studies, complete with tons of data to "prove" they are right. On a limited basis, without consideration to lands reverting to desert and bare ground, they may be right. However to reverse desertification (which is happening from Mexico, through the United States and into Canada) we need more cattle on the land. By staying with the present model, we are only accelerating the problem, which in a larger sense, isn't efficient at all. Ranchers who have successfully implemented regenerative grazing by any of it's names have often quadrupled their stocking rates while nearly eliminating runoff from precipitation (not to mention recovering dry springs, creeks and seasonal rivers.)

     You may have read the reading right, but are you sure the one who wrote the reading, wrote the reading right?

Who knows, perhaps I haven't written the reading right. Perhaps the range management science of the last 80 or so years, prescribing burning, herbicides and destocking have nothing to do with the spread of invasive plants, lowering ground water tables, and degradation of grass. But then again, someone once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

For more information visit my website.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Controlling Weeds Through Instinctive Migratory Grazing

Weed control. Radio advertisements in farm and ranch country are full of ones pushing weed control through chemical herbicides. Social media boards are full of discussions on how to control weeds by non-chemical methods including burning, grubbing and ripping. Often, at the same time ranchers are trying to figure out how to control the weeds, they are spending money on supplemental protein.  What if these weeds that "cattle won't eat" are the solution to reducing supplemental feed outputs?

As it turns out, the same stresses we have placed on our cattle that prevent them from acting as a herd, has also narrowed their natural dietary intake. As we change our stockmanship methods to allow the rebooting of herd instinct, cattle widen their diet, often before herd instinct is completely rebooted. A partial list of plants they begin to eat is common ragweed, ironweed, sumac, locust, thistles, blackberry bushes, chicory, and wild roses. The cattle don't just nibble on a few plants, but actually graze them hard.

The following picture is from a herd in Kansas which recently had it's herd instinct rebooted. The rancher call these "peppermint weeds." Prior to having their herd instinct rebooted, cattle wouldn't walk through these weeds, let alone graze them. Rather than grazing through spread out as we are used to, they migrated through as a herd, roughly consuming the top half of the plants on the right side of the picture.


Another weed this rancher has a problem with is hemp.  It was at a coarse stage and the cattle were not interested in grazing it. However, when the cattle were beginning to lie down for their morning rumination,  we spent a short time (perhaps 30 minutes) and drew them into a stand of hemp. After that one time, their preferred spot for their morning rumination is in the hemp. Even though they may not be eating it, they are trampling it down so that the grasses are able to start competing, as in the picture below (the hemp in this spot was head high to a man horseback.)


Other than one short session to entice the cattle to ruminate in the hemp, nothing was done to encourage the cattle to trample it, or browse the "peppermint" weeds. The cattle just started doing it on their own as soon as their stress levels were reduced enough for herd instinct to begin rebooting. The only thing that changed was the stockmanship methods of the man handling the cattle. The rest of it was simply the changes it allowed in the attitude of his cattle. They are working, doing weed control for the rancher, without spending a dime on chemicals, fencing or fire. As an added bonus, he is reducing his outputs on supplemental feed and was able to discard part of his water infrastructure.

For more information, visit http://migratorygrazing.com/


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Forensic Grazing Study

 Looking to the past to determine what we do in the future is as important years into regenerative grazing programs as it is in the beginning of them. When converting from conventional or rotational grazing to regenerative grazing, it is important for a person to recognize the grazing behavior that has caused their forage to degrade. It helps them to understand both the causes of the degradation as well as the cure. For those years into a program, it helps them identify areas which need changes in impact. A recent trip where I visited a ranch considering the change, and another which made the change several years ago are good examples.

The first ranch was starting to make the change, recognized the fact their pastures were going backwards, but weren't sure why. Rather than doing a grass survey, we did a Forensic Grazing Study. Rather than looking at the amount of grass, we examined what the grazing patterns had been under their conventional rotation. It was easy for them to see what areas had been over grazed as well as what areas had been under grazed. At the same time, this made it easy for them to understand the changes needed to begin regenerating the pasture, and how it could be done without added outputs for fencing or water (By rebooting their herd instinct and practicing IMG, they will actually be able to reduce their number of water points.)

The second ranch had been using a fencing system for several years. As the country was hilly, and fairly steep in areas, the cells were larger than normally used in these systems (500 acres and up.) While they had made dramatic progress over the last few years, the herd of 700 cows has not impacted the paddocks evenly. Cutting back and forth across the paddocks we were able to identify areas which had barely been impacted, along with areas were grasses were still receiving that second bite to retard plant recovery. There were some areas where there was oxidized litter preventing rain from reaching the ground, and some areas which had reached a plateau of recovery and starting to regress.

All of these things were discovered by crisscrossing the pasture horseback rather than driving through and conducting a grass survey.  His choices to improve his grazing distribution were to either build and maintain more fence, or reboot herd instinct in his cattle. That way, if cattle miss a spot while migrating around the pasture, he will be able to easily spot graze the places which need the additional impact without the headache of adding more "recreational fencing."

For more information, visit http://migratorygrazing.com/about 

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Stress, Suicide, and Cattle Behavior

During a conversation with a friend last week, he received a phone call that changed the direction of our conversation. His friend that called was trying to figure out how to console his teen aged daughters who had a friend commit suicide. The girl had been outgoing and popular with a lot of friends. Outwardly she was happy and had everything to live for. Her friends and family had no idea that inside, she was a tortured soul.

We all miss signs that a family member, friend or acquaintence is under stress or depressed. Sometimes it can go on for years, especially if the person fails to acknowledge they have a problem. We begin to to accept the personality changes of people suffering from depression or stress as simply "that is the way they are" without questioning the changes in their behavior. Often we end friendships or marriages without realizing those people were suffereing from stress or depression, or even realizing the stress we are under because of their stress induced behavior.

So how does all of this relate to cattle behavior? It is basically one and the same. We look at cattle behavior as "that is just the way cattle are." We search pastures looking for all of the scattered out cattle without questioning why these supposedly herd animals do anything except graze together as a herd. We take it for granted that cattle don't eat weeds without questioning why they don't eat these plants which may have a higher nutritional value than grass. As long as the cattle are eating and not bouncing off the fences we consider them to be acting "normal" and not under stress. That is like observing prisoners of a concentration camp going through their routine and accepting it as normal, stress free behavior because they aren't rebelling...that the barbed wire and machine gun toting guards somehow alleviate stress and depression.

Wrapping our minds around the fact our cattle are stressed, and breaking stockmanship habits is the hardest part of releiving stress from our cattle. Once we accomplish that the changes in their behavior is nothing less than astounding. No longer do they repeatedly back graze the "sweet spots." They graze together as a herd, sometimes tighter than they do when being controlled by "recreational fencing," and begin to eat the weeds we control by spraying because the "cattle won't eat them."

The day before my friend's phone conversation, we worked with his cattle. He was close to having them working as a herd, and needed a few pointers. That one day resulted in his cattle not only coming together as a herd and grazing as a big swather, they were mowing down different varieties of weeds, and bedding down in hemp, all of which they were previously avoiding. In doing so they were opening up these areas so grass could grow, and trampling areas of hard packed ground so rain could penetrate the surface instead of running off. In short, by relieveing the stress he couldn't see, it changed the beavior of his cattle in ways he could barely imagine.
For more information on changing the behavior of your cattle for the better, visit MigratoryGrazing.com.

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  workingcows.net. 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.