Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Low Stress Cattle Handling/Horsemanship Clinics

You cannot substitute articles and videos on reduced stress cattle handling procedures for real time, hands on experience to become proficient at handling cattle. Few of these articles and videos address the differences involved between handling cattle on foot or on a horse. Fewer still describe how, by simply changing the angle of your horse's body in respect to the cow, you can control the cow's speed and direction.

For a person handling cattle horseback on a ranch, or riding pens in a feedlot, you cannot learn how to handle cattle in a reduced stress manner without including horsemanship. Low stress cattle handling is synonymous with good horsemanship, you can't have one without the other. While those teaching low stress cattle handling on foot concentrate on reading cattle and making small corrections to keep things going, many of those teaching it from horseback are still doing many of the same old things. Keeping a horse parallel to a cow, beating it to the fence and working, prey/predator relationship, and training cattle to drive.

The word natural is over used and often misconstrued. The way your cattle act right now is only their natural reaction to what you are doing. The key to low stress cattle handling is to do things in a manner which naturally gets cattle to doing what we want in a calm manner.

If we are driving a cow and keeping our horse parallel to the cow and decide we need to turn it, we start putting pressure on their eye to get them to turn away from us. When we do this we turn our horse towards the cow and they speed up and try go around us. We blame the cow for speeding up and trying to go around us, but we are the one who turned on that switch in the cow to get that reaction.

In the same situation if we are tracking the cow with a slight amount of lateral movement on our horse we can actually ask the cow to turn by taking pressure off the cow. We do this by asking our horse to speed up slightly while moving laterally away from the cow. When we do this, we are taking away both the instinct of the cow to speed up and to go around us. Instead the cow feels as if its opportunity to go around us is taken away. At this point, rather than being excited and wanting to get around us, the cow's reaction is to turn slowly (without stress) away from us and in the direction we want.

In order to take advantage of the above natural instinct of cattle, we need to develop our horsemanship to a higher level. At times we can slow a cow by simply changing the angle of our horse in relationship to a cow. Essentially, the better our horsemanship is, the more we can master low stress cattle handling. This isn't to say our horses have to be perfect, as there is no true perfection. However if we master our horsemanship enough we can take advantage of methods to handle cattle with lower amounts of stress, not only on the cattle, but on our horses and ultimately on ourselves. The easier you make things on the cow, the easier it is on your horse, and the easier it is on you.

The answer to the conundrum of how to learn both the horsemanship techniques and the lower stress reactions of cattle is to learn them both at the same time. After years of thought on the matter I have designed a clinic program which addresses both the horsemanship and low stress instincts of cattle. As learning all of this is intensive, hands on clinic sizes will be limited to a total of seven participants, including crew or owners of sponsoring ranches. To learn more of my methods and all these clinics cover visit my main website.

I am now accepting host ranches for 2012 clinics. If you are going to be running yearlings, coinciding a clinic when you receive cattle, they will be calm and easy to handle when you turn them out with no additional labor costs. If you are running an AI breeding program I can also include training on how and when to pen your cattle for minimum stress and optimum conception. If you would like to host a clinic, email me me and we will make arrangements.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Are You Managing Wildlife, Livestock, Or Forage ?

Look at nearly any help wanted ad looking for ranch management and it is fairly obvious that every ranch has it's management priorities. The problem in developing management programs which focus on a certain species of animal is that they are so focused on developing a program for your particular niche that we develop tunnel vision. When we hire a manager with a specific degree to manage for our specific management niche we are often focusing our tunnel vision even more. More often than not we are like a drug addict too stoned to notice we are shooting ourselves in the foot. This is especially true in wildlife managers who have been taught that livestock competing for forage is detrimental to wildlife populations.

The tunnel vision developed by an educational system which focuses on niche management tends to overlook the bigger picture. Environmentalists and wildlife managers want to remove livestock from the land to protect it. However this is often counter productive to forage development and diversity. Many of us have, for one reason or another, come to the conclusion that if we leave the land to nature, that nature will heal the land on it's own. The only problem with this theory is that nature today is not what nature was even a hundred years ago. We  have removed the tool nature used to develop forage and plant diversity. This tool of nature was large herds of free roaming grazers that grazed through an area and were gone for a period of time, letting the land and plants rest. This grazing pattern loosened the top of the soil allowing rain to soak into the ground rather than run off, removed the top two thirds of plants allowing light to reach the base of plants speeding up photosynthesis while fertilizing the ground from feces and urine.

 When we took away the tools nature has provided to take care of itself, we minimized our chances of real improvement or even sustaining what forage we have. The only way we can viably sustain and improve the forage and environment for wildlife is to find a substitution for the tools of nature which are no longer available. 

The substitution for the large herds of grazing animals is controlled rotational grazing of  livestock. The most effective method is by training a herd of stock to act as a herd and place them in a different area to graze on a daily basis. This does not mean having a person with the herd all day, but simply training your stock to act as a herd and place them on a daily, or near daily basis. To find out more of how easy it is to train livestock to act as a herd, and how this kind of grazing system can improve conditions for your game animals and birds, visit the following websites:

By using these methods you will not only be helping improve the ecology of your ranch, but also providing food for the world.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cattle Handling's Best Kept Secret

With all of the articles and videos on reduced stress cattle handling, how can there be a “secret?” To be honest, I didn't realize it was a secret until I started watching some videos on how to pull cattle in a feedlot. Time after time I watched the experts pass up perfect opportunities to to take advantage of this but they never attempted to use it. By not using it, their average time to make a pull in their videos was approximately eight minutes. As anyone who has ridden health in a feedlot knows, taking this long to pull a single cow is not feasible, especially during the fall run when a person may be pulling over 100 sick animals a day.
This secret no one talks about requires a handler to abandon conventional wisdom, human instinct and think like a cow. When a cow cuts across the pen conventional wisdom and human instinct both tell us to keep our horse parallel to the cow and get to the head so we can stop it. The problem is that (even when we are successful) we are putting pressure on the cow to speed up before it stops. If we get the cow stopped, we still need to get it turned towards the gate. If we don't get it stopped, we are starting all over again. So what is the best kept secret to keep a cow calm and turn in the direction we want?
The secret lies in thinking about what the cow is doing and removing both the desire and opportunity to do this. We cause the desire to go around us when we put on too much pressure. When we try to get ahead of the animal to stop it we are, for as long as it takes us to do so, are putting pressure on the cow to go faster. In order to slow the animal down and get it to turn the way we want, we need to take away both the pressure and opportunity.
To do this all we have to do is widen the gap between ourselves and the cow while still tracking it. As the gap widens the pressure we are putting on the cow lessens. At the same time we are far enough away that the desire to go around us also goes away. At this point the cow will either stop, or turn away from us.
If we train our horses to move laterally this will allow us to give cattle that extra space whenever a cow starts to cut across the pen and prevent it from happening in the first place. This one little “secret” will allow you to pull cattle not only in a calmer manner, but faster as well.

 For more information For more information, or to have me help you with your cattle handling, visit my main website or email me

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are Current Pasture Conditions The Fault of Drought or MAnagement?

There is one thing I have noticed on nearly every ranch I have visited this year that disturbs me. Nearly every ranch has large areas of unused grass that cattle won't eat because it is gray, matted and rank. Some ranches have literally thousands of acres of this (currently) useless grass. The cause of this is not the drought, but conventional low density continuous grazing methods.

The biggest problem with low density grazing is that cattle are creatures of habit, as are many of their owners. Once cattle are located in an area they tend to keep going back to the same location. This results (especially on larger ranches) in cattle grazing one area to the ground while ignoring other areas which become entirely inedible for both livestock and wildlife. Either scenario results in little available forage for livestock or wildlife during times of drought. Why do the gray matted areas of grass exist?

They exist is because cattle have been comfortable in past years where they were at without grazing these areas. Without enough animal impact these areas have gone through their growth cycle several times to the point that two things happen. First, not enough sunlight is getting to the new grass to create the photosynthesis needed for growth. Secondly, when rains are measured in trace amounts of moisture rather than inches, not enough moisture reaches the ground to make grass grow. Is it possible to repair these areas enough to induce growth with minimal amounts of rain?

Actually it is simple. Many (if not most) ranches are feeding cake. Being the creatures of habit we are, we continue to feed the same cattle in the same area every time we feed. By feeding cake or hay on these dry matted areas we will be using herd effect to both trample the matted grass into the ground (allowing more sunlight for photosynthesis) while also tilling the ground with the hooves of the cattle, which allows rain to soak deeper into the ground.

For some reason, there are many people who do not believe that herd effect allows for more efficient plant use during times of minimal moisture. There is an easy experiment you can do to discover what herd impact has without using a single cow.

You can use either bare hard ground, or a patch of ground where you have gray matted grass. Measure out a 10 X 20 foot plot, then cut them in half. To simulate a short term, high density herd impact, rake one of the 10 X 10 about ½ and place a rain gauge at the halfway point of the dividing line. Place a sprinkler so that both plots receive the same amount of moisture, until the rain gauge has about ¼ inch. Then compare the amount of penetration of the water.

To see results from doing this, visit Dan Dagget on You-Tube for the kind of results you can achieve. As usual, your comments and suggestions are welcome!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Widening Your Focus

One of the advantages to thinking holistically is that you are open to more than one avenue of thought when it comes to problem solving. While there are times that the reason for a problem may be obvious, at others there may be a variety of causes for a problem. The problem with not thinking holistically is evident in a recent experience. 
I had the opportunity to be involved in a grass survey so that a family could determine whether or not they wanted to graze cattle this winter. This West Texas ranch focuses on hunting quail, deer, sheep, and antelope, using cattle as a tool to improve range conditions. Several of the owners had reluctantly agreed to the holistic grazing as they have their doubts about whether or not grazing could improve range conditions. For the last several years the deer and antelope have not been reproducing, and quail numbers have been dropping.

The only reason that the people reluctant to try holistic grazing can see for this (beyond the current drought) is that the cattle are to blame. They are so narrow in their focus they cannot see that forage conditions on their ranch did not improve until they began grazing. They also cannot seem to grasp the fact that game numbers should automatically improve when forage improves. When it does not, you have a problem which is not related to limited grazing with cattle. In order to uncover the cause of your problems you must look at all of the changes made in management as well as possible biological reasons not directly related to management.

The two biggest management changes concerning the quail were installing waterline for quail drinkers and changing methods for supplementing quail feed. The water shouldn't make a difference but may (which I will cover in the next paragraph.) Presently they are feeding a free choice quail block. To see quail feeding on these blocks, you have to be there at exactly the right time. The old method was feeding millet out of a pickup. Like Pavlov's dog, the quail would be drawn to the road every time a pickup went by. Now with more cover(from the grazing) and no reason to come to the road, they are seeing no quail.
When range conditions improve, fertility of the game animals should increase, resulting in more, not fewer deer and antelope fawns. As the forage conditions across this ranch are dramatically better than before they grazes (and astronomically better than their neighbors) they need to be looking at the whole picture to see what the problem could be. Do they have a parasite problem? Is there a disease such as brucellosis or vibriosis which displays its by abortions?

One other improvement which happened at the same time as grazing began, was new water wells were drilled and tied into the existing water system. This is also apparently just prior to the time deer and antelope started having fewer young, and quail numbers dropping in the improved areas.
With all of these possibilities the only “reason” some of these owners can see that could cause the problems is grazing. Rather than graze areas of the ranch which (especially in this time of drought) could be improved they have decided not to graze. This decision will not be detrimental to the ranch, but it will not solve the problems they have. It would not be difficult to start eliminating the causes of the problems.
First, check the new wells for contamination (which could be a toxic mineral). Second, begin feeding the quail from the pickup again to see if quail numbers suddenly increase. If the wells are not contaminated, tranquillize several deer and antelope and take blood and fecal samples to see where the problem lies.

To manage holistically you have to be aware of the whole without being overly focused on only a small portion of it. Doing so only slows progress and prevents you from solving problems in a timely manner!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Myth of Regional Neccessity

Recently a person asked the question if  there is a part in Texas where there is much of the Vaquero tradition going on.Of course the conversation expanded from horses, to handling cattle in various parts of the country.One of the opinions expressed was that cattle in Texas, because of their breeding, big pastures and brush, are wilder than cattle in other parts of the country. Having worked on ranches from California east to Nebraska, and from the Montana/Canadian border, south to Texas I have come to the realization that the only reason cattle are wilder in one are that the other comes down to the way cattle are handled.

While it is true that the longer cattle go without seeing a person horseback, the stronger their flight response will be when they are gathered and worked. However part of the process of taking care of cattle is actually going through them from time to time. If you do this, and handle your cattle in a way they understand, your cattle will not be trotty and run off every time you gather them.
A big (Ok, VERY big) part of the problem people have in areas claiming they "have" to handle cattle in a hurry is that they are pushing cattle too hard on the way to the pens, then pressuring them too much when they get there. In the above picture five of us were moving over 600 pair to a summer pasture of around 5,000 acres. There were a few clearings, but most of the summer lease was just like in the picture. Rather than just ignore them all summer, I rode them once a week (twice if I was lucky). That fall the five of us went back in and gathered, driving them right back through the brush and accounted for every single head.

This brings us back to "regional necessity" of having big crews to handle one or two hundred head at a time. If that is really necessary, you should be looking closely at your herd management and the way you are handling your cattle. Bigger crews add to outputs, as does unnecessary shrink from cattle that are trotty to gather. I've been on ranches that were either still open range, or had pastures as big as fifty thousand acres with cattle that were easy to handle, just because people made a point of riding through them from time to time. It all boils down to the fact that if your cattle are trotty and run off, it is because of the way you manage and handle them.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Un-constitutionality of Federal Lands

The following videos are from a discussion surrounding the fact that most federally controlled lands are un-constitutional as per Section 8, clause 17 of the U.S.Constitution. Included in the discussion is how to get these lands returned to the individual states as well as reaching out and educating the public on this issue and agriculture in general.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Improve Forage & Hydrology By Grazing "Impossible" to Graze Locations

 While holistic grazing programs can improve the biodiversity and hydrology of a pasture the source of erosion usually begins on steep side hills. As these areas are often ignored by cattle, and are hard to fence, so they are left out of grazing plans as being "impossible" to graze. The fact is, it is not only possible to graze these areas, they are prime locations to improve both forage and hydrology of pastures.

While the cattle were being rotated through the pasture in the picture to the left, they were, for the most part, allowed to graze where they wanted. You can tell where they grazed by following the outline of the healthy yellow grass. As soon as the ground began to get too steep, or too rocky, the cattle would ignore it in their grazing pattern.

Upon closer inspection of these rocky areas, there is grass, but it is gray, matted and very unhealthy.
The picture above shows just how sparse and unhealthy this grass is. When it rains, there is not enough grass to slow water down and erosion begins. Notice in the above picture that some clumps of grass have no individual stalks of grass while others have just a few.  In the picture below, I conducted a short experiment the last time cattle were in this pasture. Taking roughly two hundred cows, I herded them up a side hill to graze on steep, rocky ground with the grass in a condition similar to the picture above.

The results of this are in the picture below. Notice the grass is healthier and had much more growth than in the picture above. This is the result of grazing the cattle through this area one time. By utilizing "impossible to graze" slopes such as this you are improving biodiversity, hydrology, and stocking rates. At the very least, utilizing these areas will allow you to run at full capacity (as prescribed by conventional) methods while giving each grazing area once every two years. Feel free to ask questions or make comments below.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

AgChat and the EPA

While participating on the May 31,2010 AgChat about the EPA I noticed a a tweet mentioning AgChat, with the comment that “The fear and hate being displayed remind me of “The Simpsons movie.” The ensuing “tweetersation” is what prompted this post.

Perhaps the hardest thing to do, is explain to a person how one of their most trusted friends has been lying to, and taking advantage of them. Even harder is trying to explain to a dedicated and concerned group of people, that an organization they trust has been taking advantage of their naivety to promote their own political agenda to the detriment of what they are supposedly protecting.

At the risk of having you not finish this post, I would like to introduce you to Dan Dagget. Mr. Daggett was one of the first 100 members of Earth First, and was instrumental in establishing a wilderness area in Arizona and in 1992 was designated by the Sierra Club as one of the top 100 grassroots environmental activists. I invite you to peruse his views and discoveries before finishing this post as a primer.
Now back to making my own point. The following three example of EPA actions demonstrates just how little scientific thought goes into their decision process. It also demonstrates their disregard for allowing the truth to emerge if it challenges the validity of their “environmental concerns.”

The first scenario was in the late 1980's. BLM was reducing grazing allotments in Nevada at the bequest of the EPA because of the endangered Desert Painted Tortoise. Livestock Market Digest columnist Lee Pitts uncovered the fact that during this same time, the National Guard “rescued” over 100,000 of these tortoises from a housing development near Las Vegas, Nevada and airlifted them to Reno, Nevada for “adoption.” This begs two questions; a) If they were actually endangered then why were there over 100,000 of them in an area being developed? b) Why would they adopt them out rather than relocate them where the cattle numbers were being reduced?

The second scenario was also in Nevada, in the late 80's.

Lahontan Cutthroat Trout were discovered on a BLM grazing lease. These trout had been listed as endangered in 1970 and reclassified as threatened in 1975. Armed with no scientific evidence other than the trout were in the area where cattle were grazing, the EPA demanded that the BLM put a buffer area around the stream. The Fallon family had been grazing this BLM lease continuously for over 80 years and with no warning were suddenly forced to cut the size of their herd in half. One would think the prudent thing to do would have been to do a study on the population to see if perhaps the cattle were somehow benefiting the trout (logic would dictate that at the very least, coexisting with the cattle for 80 years there was no real harm being done by the cattle).

The third scenario is more commonly known as it basically destroyed the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest. When the EPA shut down logging in the area because of the Spotted Owl there were several things which never made it into the national media. There was more than one lie purported by the EPA. The EPA claimed that the spotted owls could only nest in old growth forest. Rather than halt logging only in the old growth forest, logging was also halted in the replanted areas. If the logging ban was decided on apolitical, scientific reasoning to save the owl, why was logging halted outside the alleged area of habitat of the owl? Yet the deception by the EPA (and media) goes deeper.

During the Spotted Owl controversy, the EPA kept insisting that the only place these birds could nest was in old growth timber. The surprising thing was the number of spotted owls found to be nesting in everything from younger trees, to power poles and fence posts. These pictures were published in various timber, livestock and farming publications, yet were never acknowledged by the EPA, ecological, animal welfare groups or the mainstream media.

The simple fact is that facts can be misconstrued to promote a political agenda. A well written lie can often make more sense to a person than the truth. This is especially true when that lie is fabricated to appear it is protecting you. When you see a question on AgChat, or statement on Twitter you feel is biased or false, question the person who wrote it with an open mind. Don't assume that just because it does not fit into the mold of what you have been taught, that it is false. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. If you want to discover more about agriculture, visit the Texas Crossroads Gathering's links page where we have a large variety of agricultural links!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Grazing Observations

This past week I had the opportunity to take a road trip through the drought ridden Texas Hill Country. This week I would like to share my observations and give some suggestions as to improving forage management. These suggestions will work in any part of the country.

Just by the fencing systems in place, it was easy to tell which places were practicing rotational grazing, and which ones were grazing continuously. While the rotational grazing systems were in slightly better condition than continuous grazing systems, a few things stuck out like a Charlois bull in an Angus cowherd.

First, livestock in both groups are practicing selective grazing. Areas of pastures in both groups would be eaten down to bare ground, while other areas would contain grass that was nearly two feet tall.

The second thing which stuck out like that Charolis bull really surprised me. I expected to see cattle scattered out with each animal grazing (selectively) in its own direction. I did not expect to see that behavior in sheep! I have long been chided with the comment "Are you raising cattle or sheep?" because of the way my cattle graze in a mob like sheep (used to) do.

The third thing that stuck out was that the animals were avoiding the taller grass and grazing the areas which were already grazed to the ground. This was true both in areas being grazed rotaionally as well as continuously. To acheive optimal re-growth, we need to make sure that grasses are not grazed down to the ground. This means we need to leave several inches of grass behind during the growing season to stimulate growth. Allowing selective grazing which takes all of the grass in one area while leaving other areas untouched is not only what causes over grazing, it is also less efficient utilization of forage.

Most stockmen (incorrectly) assume that selective grazing comes with the territory. Then there are those who will try to eliminate it  by strip grazing with temporary electric fence. While the latter will work, it increases labor inputs as well as fence maintenance inputs. However if we learn to take advantage of the natural instinct of grazing animals to act, and graze, as a herd, we will be able to eliminate selective grazing while adding no additional inputs on fencing.

The above observation of sheep grazing spread out like cattle is an indicator that they are being handled in the same way which has destroyed their instinct to graze as a herd. The hardest part of re-instilling this instinct is in accepting that we are to blame for it, and in changing our own methods of handling livestock. Depending on the class of livestock and how badly they have been handled over time, this instinct to graze as a herd can be established in under a week. For older herds which have always had a lot of stress when handled, it may take as long as six weeks. The benefits are well worth the effort with the elimination of selective grazing, elimination of extra fencing, higher gains from the reduction in stress as well as lower labor costs when it comes time for working cattle during branding, weaning or any other time. For more information on how cattle act as a herd, and how to get them started, visit my main website. If you would like to train your cattle to act as a herd, and would like help feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Heat Detection Manual & Record Book

Probably the hardest part of any artificial insemination program is keeping the cattle calm while pulling cattle to be bred. There are a few simple techniques concerning when we pull the cattle and how we handle them which can make heat detection a simple part of our AI program. I have combined instructions on how to pull your breeders without stressing them or yourself out, with a handy record keeping book.

Rather than being formatted like most pocket books, the records keeping portion of this book is designed to help with the legibility of records by giving more room to write. In the case you are both detecting heat and breeding, this handy book allows you to write down the cow was pulled, cow identification number and the number of the bull she is bred to.

This handy manual and records book is available for only $8 (US Shipping included)! If you are a semen dealer, or seedstock producer, we can put your logo on the cover for a nominal charge.

Number of Copies

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Technology And “OFS”

Between my eight year old son asking me “How did you do it back then Daddy,” and the #Agnerd hashtag on Twitter, I've been dwelling on the pros and cons of new technology. Looking at all of the technological advances within my lifetime, one may assume that I am nearing the century mark. Surprisingly enough, I haven't quite reach my 57th birthday. All of these advances have given me a severe case of OFS (Old Fart Syndrome) when I hear about new technology.

OFS comes from remembering when black and white television was the epitome of high tech household appliances. Until I was eleven years old, I had to pick up the receiver and tell the operator what number I wanted to call (My parents number was J-111). There were several other people on our “party line” so you had to wait until the neighbor was done talking before you could make your call. Cell phones with call waiting, call forwarding, conference calls, caller ID, voice mail, internet access or any of the other eighty odd thousand phone applications (we consider necessity) were science fiction.

Today is seems most people are not only dependent, but addicted to technology. OFS has me wondering where the balance is. Is all of this new technology making our jobs in the cattle industry more efficient, or is it just restructuring our workload in a way that alienates us from what we should be doing?

We have back tags which tell us that a cow has been in heat. Then we have ear tags which tell us that an animal is running a fever. We use portable electric fencing so we can control where our cattle graze. We use a siren to call them into feed, then once they are used to the siren, we use the Pavlov's Dog response to move them to fresh pasture. If we aren't calling them and baiting them with a feed truck, we fire up the four wheelers or helicopters so we can get the pasture move or gather done “faster.” OFS tells me a man on a horse is cheaper than a man in a helicopter and can handle the cattle cheaper and with less stress, but the techno addicts can't see that.

In the feedlot, we are using high tech antibiotics so we can mass treat cattle on arrival so we won't have to pull sick cattle in their first few days on feed (regardless of the fact over half wouldn't be getting sick in the first place). Then we use ear tags which tell us if cattle are running a fever or not by turning on a bright red light when cattle are running a fever. These high tech tools allow us to not just spend less time observing cattle but to hire less experienced labor as managers figure all the help has to do is pull the cattle by the tags rather than the symptoms.

Besides making us dependent on technology to keep our feedlot cattle healthy, it is adding to input costs rather than lowering them. Bud Williams has proven time after time that feedlots can reduce their antibiotic inputs, as well as morbidity and death losses by as much as 50% by simply changing the way cattle are handled. Wouldn't it make more sense to simply change the way we handle cattle than adding to input costs?

When it comes to education, rather than hands on experience, we take multiple choice tests on a computer hooked to the internet. It is actually possible to receive a diploma (through a university) in reduced stress cattle handling without ever seeing a cow up close and personnel. To make it even more interesting feedlots are making cattle handling videos and computerized classes available to teach their employees better cattle handling procedures.

Once again, OFS raises it's ugly head. Proper handling of cattle is largely an intuitive task. It becomes even more so when we put the cattle handler on the back of a horse. Thinking we are actually teaching people to become effective at reduced stress cattle handling is like having a pilot who has flown nothing but single engine planes a multiple choice test on the internet and turning them loose in a Stealth Bomber...It isn't going to work. The only way you can truly teach proper cattle handling is by a combination of instruction and closely watched hands on experience.

The amount of new technology we have, and the things we can do with it are pretty amazing. We do need learn to balance between the old and the new. We need to ask ourselves two simple questions to see if the new technology is actually beneficial, or if we are using it to satisfy our own techno-addiction.
1. Will it actually reduce input costs in the long run?
2. Is adding the the new technology the most cost effective way to achieve the end result?

If the answers to number one and two are yes, then perhaps the new technology would be something to use. If not, then we need to recognize that we are only feeding our own techno-addiction.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Power of "I Can't"

"It doesn't matter if you say you can, or you say you can't, you're right."
Many years ago I read the above quote, and it stuck with me. I don't remember who the quote is attributed to, but the simple wisdom of it has stuck with me through the decades.This self fulfilling prophecy really applies when you are considering different management techniques.

In drought conditions like much of the southwest is currently under, ranchers are culling herds deep to save grass. When you mention following an intensive, rotational grazing program the first thing out of their mouth is usually "I can't." This is of course followed by a myriad or "reasons" as to why it will not work on their ranch. The "reasons" range from water systems to how rough their ranch is, or how much brush, to their kind of cattle.

This brings me to my own saying. The only difference between a really good reason, and a poor excuse, is if you are listening to,  or telling it.  The "reasons" you give after spouting off the phrase "I can't" are only the excuses you give for not trying methods which may keep you from reducing your herd in a drought. When the first reaction is "I can't" you are not thinking of the positive possibilities, but the things which will only hold you back.

Conversely,  a person who says or thinks "I can" when approached with a new method to improve their situation will find a way to get it done. Again, this is a self fulfilling prophecy. When you say "I can" you are going to learn all you can about the new method so you can implement it for your situation.

The most efficient and effective way to manage your grazing at anytime is by herding your cattle through a holistic, intensive rotational program. You may need to make some changes in your water system, but for the most part the changes are rather simple, and relatively inexpensive for the benefits received. It will allow you to utilize grass more effectively, and in many cases allow you to graze areas of your ranch that usually aren't grazed at all. When the rains do come, this method will promote faster growth of grass, especially in tsabosa flats where the grass has become gray and matted.

Training your cattle to graze as a tight knit herd is simple. It is all a matter of whether you say "I can" or "I can't." If you want to keep your cow numbers up in this combination of drought and high prices, it may benefit you to adopt the "I can" philosophy!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Grass fed vs Grain Fed

There is a lot of debate on grass fed vs grain fed beef. It has dawned on me, that while everyone is posting their "facts" on the issue, that some very important information is being ignored. That information happens to be the yield grades being compared and the genetics which results in them.

When comparing the health differences, are researchers are comparing A yield grade 1 or yield grade 4 against the grass fed beef? In comparing the time to finish, are they comparing a grass fed steer which would finish on grain at a grade 4 against a grain fed steer which is finishing at a grade 1? 

A yield grade 1will have marbling, but much less extra fat than a yield grade 4 making the yield grade 1 a healthier product. Cattle finishing at a yield grade 4 generally have genetics which take longer to get marbling. This means that the "facts" in the debate can be misconstrued by researchers stacking the data by comparing against  different genetic types.

You want to stack the data to show how much healthier grass fed beef is over grain fed? Compare and Angus grass finished carcass against a large , fatty, yield grade 4 carcass. Want to stack the data showing how more efficient feeding grain is? Compare times to finish that animal producing the yield grade 4 carcass against the Angus steer finished on grain.

When gaining information between feeding methods, unless the genetics are taken into consideration, the results will not be accurate. Either side of the grass fed vs grain fed debate can use genetic differences in stacking the data in their favor. Until such time as there is a study comparing cattle with the same genetic tendencies towards marbling and body fat, neither side of the debate can give an accurate report to the consumer about efficiency or health.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reducing Input Expenses

In my last two posts, I discussed how much money you can be throwing away through poor cattle handling procedures and the true worth of your cattle after inflation is taken into consideration. While changing your cattle handling methods is an easy fix, trying to cut other inputs can seem to be insurmountable. However it can be easier than you can imagine.


If you have more than one full time employee for every thousand head of cows, or two thousand head of yearlings, you are over staffed. If you practice reduced stress cattle handling methods, and get through your cattle once or twice a week, the only time you should need extra help is when you are branding, weaning, shipping, or preconditioning.

Fuel Mechanical Maintenance

Nearly everyone spends more time in their pickup or on four wheelers than they do a horse. In many cases (especially if your ranch is in rough country) you really can't go any faster in a pickup than you can on a horse. Even if your roads are in good enough shape to go faster, why burn the fuel and tear up an expensive truck or ATV? I recently talked with one rancher who runs 1,500 pairs, plus a few hundred yearling heifers. He is running three employees and burns up over 1,000 gallons of gas and diesel each month in three pickups checking waterlines. That is an expense of nearly $4,000 in fuel before you figure in wear and tear on the trucks, flat tires and an extra full time employee.

I have run 2,200 yearlings plus an additional 150 pairs on 50,000 acres with no help and burned less than 45 gallons of fuel a month (with the exception of running to town for mineral or other supplies every other month.) The amount of fuel NOT burned amounts to 820 gallons a month. At $3.40 gas this amounts a reduction in input amounts of over $30,000 a year in fuel expenses alone.

Your wheels are turning, and you are thinking of all of the longer hours you will be putting in without your pickup or ATV. When running the above ranch, I ran the waterlines on a motorcycle Saturday morning and was off the ranch by noon. I would do a quick run on Monday morning just to make sure there were no new leaks. During the week, I was seldom home later than 5 or 5:30.

Additional Benefits
The first benefit is one you may not have thought of, your health and stress level. You, or your employee will remain healthier, both physically and emotionally, riding a horse than bouncing around in a pickup. Second, your cattle see you and will be calmer when you go to gather. This also means you see your cattle and know where they are, reducing or eliminating going back out to gather remnants at shipping time. If you plan your riding carefully, you will be checking your fences regularly and keep them in a better state of repair.

Direct Cattle Management
As I have pointed out before, using reduced stress cattle handling methods can increase ADG's with no added input. If you are running pairs, time your calving season to coincide with green grass. If you are in an area of cold and snow, this can cut your feed bill by two-thirds. You can either sell your excess hay or adjust your herd size to make up for the difference. Once again, this goes with the principle of reducing inputs while increasing income.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or email me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Adjusting Today's Prices

Nearly everyone is happy about record high cattle prices. A lot of investors are looking at cattle as a "good investment" right now. However when you really look at input costs, you are receiving less for calves today than you were in the late 1970's

In 1979, I worked for a rancher who sold his calves for $125cwt. At the time, a new four wheel drive pickup was about $10,000 and a "high paid" cowboy made $500 a month and beef. Day work was expensive at $50 a day. Hay was roughly $45 a ton and gas was well under $2 per gallon.

Today's calves are bringing roughly $58 per cwt more, less than a 50% increase. Many cowboys are now starting out at $1,500 a month, or three times higher. Day labor has doubled at $100 a day. That four wheel drive pickup now costs $40,000, or four times as much. Hay costs over a $100 a ton (more than double) and gas is getting close to $4 a gallon and in many places, diesel is already over $4 a gallon (again, doubled). This does not take into account not only higher land prices, but higher property taxes as well. This means, after figuring input costs, your cattle are actually worth less than they were in 1979. If cattle were even keeping up with labor costs, today's calves should be bringing $3.75 cwt.

I can think of a number of things that 90% of cattle operations today could do to lower input costs. Most of these ranches could do to increase stocking capacity and the total pounds of cattle shipped from their ranch while lowering input costs. What are you doing to increase the efficiency of your cattle operation without increasing your input costs?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Can You Afford To Burn Money?

I know of very few people who can afford to burn hundred dollar bills ten at a time, but many ranches tend to do just that every time they work cattle. This seems to be especially true on desert ranches where time is spent, not in the cattle, but constantly checking waterlines.

This past week I day worked on a local ranch which I've worked on before. Cattle are scattered out in groups of a hundred to two hundred per pasture, with the average pasture size around two thousand acres. If the cattle were ridden through even once a week, and handled with reduced stress methods one person could gather the cattle into the pens with no help, and a crew of four or five could get done with the sorting, branding, vaccinating and castrating fairly easily.

As these cattle only see people horseback when they are going to the pens to get worked, they are not only trotty, they have no intention of going into the pens. Since it is a known "fact" that the cattle are going to be hard to handle the crew grows to nine people, or an extra four or five hundred dollars a day.

Finding cowboys to work for day wages is hard. Finding cowboys that work for day wages who also work cattle in a reduced stress manner is next to impossible. As a result, when the cattle start getting leery of the pens, rather than back off and keep them quiet, the charge is on to get them into the pens as fast as possible. The pressured cattle wind up running off and in the ensuing stampede, calves have more stress related shrink, which winds up in higher than necessary morbidity and mortality rates. It also results in having to go back out to the pasture and roping calves that got away. At today's cattle prices this is costing in the neighborhood of thirty dollars per calf, or burning thirty one hundred dollar bills for every hundred calves you wean.

This week the ranch I worked on, between having to hire extra help, and their methods basically burned two hundred and five, one hundred dollar bills. If this isn't burning enough money, the cattle we worked this week is only one third of their herd, so between weaning the three groups, they are burning six hundred and fifteen of those one hundred dollar bills a year on weaning alone. Add a third that much shrink loss during branding and you are looking at over eighty thousand dollars a year going up in smoke.
Even including all related expenses, paying a cowboy thirty thousand dollars a year would save this ranch a minimum of forty thousand dollars a year. However the mentality seems to be that if a person is horseback in the cattle they are not "getting anything accomplished."

If you are tired of burning hundred dollar bills, and would like to learn more about reduced stress cattle handling, click here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Results of Viral Ag Experiment

As some of you will remember I wanted to try trending @4H through the ag related cowboy gathering Texas Crossroads. This experiment to see if we could consciously trend an agriculture related event on twitter, but if it was possible for the different factions of agriculture to band together and have a louder voice.

We may be able to blame part of it on the weather and the rolling blackouts around much of the country, but only a small part of it. How can we explain that out of nearly 200 tweets, this experiment received only 20 RT's and of those 20, only five of them came from the several hundred that knew about this experiment ahead of time. Of the five, three of them were from a high school student who is interested in agriculture. The remaining RT's I made myself from my other Twitter account.

As I have mentioned before, we are a minuscule part of the population. Compared to the people and organizations dispensing negative and often false information about agriculture we are like a whisper in the wind. We cannot afford to be fragmented and expect to reach the general consumer in enough numbers to really make an impact.

If we don't find a way to band together and get our voices heard, the Agricultural industry in this country will go the same way as the steel mills, textile mills, and auto factories. A big step in this direction is already being taken with the USFS proposal to sell off all of its 193,000,000 acres and yet barely a whisper from people in agriculture.

Friday, February 11, 2011

US Forest Service to Sell off 193 Million Acres

The National Forest Service has announced plans to sell off its 193,000,000 acres of federally owned land. Government attorneys have argued that precedence for federal ownership of land has been set, showing the federal government has the authority over these lands. We can show that the precedence used to prove the legality of federally owned lands was flawed by asking one simple question:

Why did the federal government adhere to the stipulations of Article 17 under the Powers of Congress in all statehood expansion east of the Mississippi River?

For those of you not familiar with this section of the Constitution, it says:

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;

The precedence set of allowing territories to become states and NOT withholding large tracts of land east of the Mississippi River would indicate that the federal government is NOT allowed to hold interest of large tracts of land within a state.

The fight needs to be taken to the federal government on a three pronged attack. First disprove that the precedences used to support the government's claims that federally owned lands are legal. Secondly it needs to be pointed out to the Supreme Court in (historical terms, not legal) that the founders of our country, and the drafters of the Constitution were trying to create a government which would not own large portions of the country. The third prong of attack is using someone who is versed in the English language at the time the Constitution was written to describe what the article means in today's language.

By approaching the matter in this way we can prove that the government was acting beyond its authority when it withheld lands from the territories when granting statehood. That precedence used showing the federal government has the authority to control multi-use or recreational lands was false. It will also show that the intent of Article 17 in the Powers of Congress section was purposely written to prevent federal ownership of land.

In actuality, this proposed sale could prove to be an opportunity. The attorney generals of every state having USFS or BLM controlled land should be banding together on this fight. These states should be suing to have all land held by the federal government, falling outside of Article 17, returned to possession of the states. This would allow states to receive the income now going to the federal government for grazing, mining,logging and National Parks.

If you would like to read exactly what the powers of Congress are, click here!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Trending @4H Tonight through Saturday

We are trying to make @4H the Texas Crossroads Cowboy Gathering held tonight through Saturday night trend on Twitter. Crossroads donates all proceeds to 4H and the Christian Homeless Shelter here in Van Horn Texas. If you want to help, follow, mention and RT @Texascrossroad on Twitter. You can view this event on the browser below or at http://www.texascrossroadscowboypoetry.org

Video chat rooms at Ustream

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Supporting Agriculture Through #KamikazeCows and #Agritainers

In my last post I asked the question if the different factions of agriculture could band together to increase consumer awareness in an agricultural related event. If we look at cowboy poets, musicians, and story tellers as the #Agritainers they are, perhaps we can draw in enough people to possibly tend on twitter.

February 3, at 6pm we are kicking off the Texas Crossroads Cowboy Gathering with a Calcutta auction on the entertainers to raise money for the local 4H Club and Christian Homeless Shelter. As each entertainer in the auction will perform their own original version  of a poem, song, or story with the title The Kamikaze Cow before being bid on we are calling it the #KamikazeCowCalcutta. The Crossroads Gathering will run until the Cowboy Church is over on Sunday February 6th and we will be averaging a minimum of six tweets per hour.

If you wish to participate, just follow @Texascrossroad on Twitter from the third of February until the sixth. If you keep the @Texascrossroad complete profile open in your browser, every tweet we do will show up and all you have to do is click on the Retweet link.

If you want to watch the live broadcast you can do it at the Crossroads  website or on the browser below. Spread the word and lets see where the #KamikazeCow and #Agritainers can take us.

Streaming Video by Ustream.TV

Monday, January 17, 2011

Viral Ag Related Event...An experiment in Social Media

Unicorns and cowboys are mythical creatures and hamburgers are made in a factory. Livestock producers beat on their animals which spend their lives in cages so small they can't turn around. We know that isn't true, but enough people do believe it that many of us have turned into the agrovate posse. While we may be making some progress against HSUS and PETA, are we really making as much impact as we can? The six hundred dollar question becomes: Are we really educating unknowing, or are we mainly preaching to the choir?

If all of our efforts were really hitting pay dirt, it would be showing up in mainstream media and possibly in a trend or two on Twitter. Even the big stock shows don't attract that many non-ag people. I have an idea of why this is. To the average person, agriculture is boring, and those of us involved are a bunch of ignorant rednecks. The second reason is answered in a simple question. Would the average person rather spend a week at the Smithsonian or Disneyland? I would wager the odds would be in favor of the latter.

The next question is, can we come up with an agricultural event that is educational, yet entertaining enough for the average person to attend? If we can come up with such an event, do we wield enough social media clout to make an event go viral? Could we get an event to trend on Twitter, or spread on Facebook enough that it would possibly make national news? It would be an interesting experiment on the power of social media, and one we could do fairly easily.

February 3rd through the 6th I put on the Texas Crossroads Gathering, a small cowboy poetry gathering in Van Horn, Texas. There are a few things about this event which makes it unique. First, we actually live-stream video to the internet. Second the entertainers are not paid (the event is a small, but growing talent show.) Finally, all money raised from this event is donated to the local 4H Club and Christian Homeless Shelter.

When you stop and think about it, the majority of these entertainers are either involved in agriculture or have agricultural roots. Much of their material is derived from their experience in agriculture. True to form for people in agriculture, they also go out of their way to do things for other people. Several of these poets and singers are going out of their way to come early so that they can drive even farther to give shows to schools in Valentine and Sierra Blanca Texas.
When an entertainer goes on stage, I tweet their name and website url if they have one. Then I post it on Facebook. I do it again when they go off stage. By simply clicking the button to RT on Twitter or the like button on Facebook you are adding to the traffic the event receives. Twitter actually makes it easy to do. If you open the profile @texascrossroad in the right hand side of your twitter browser, all of the tweets in my timeline will show up there. This allows you to miss Crossroads tweets in your timeline, but still having them available to "RT."

We have the nucleus for an experiment in social media marketing. By combining all of the agvocates and their followers with the cowboy entertainers and their followers we can see if we can get this event to go viral. Between mentions and RT's on Twitter, and posting the live video on Facebook walls and blogs, we may be able to do it. Why do we want to do this?

If we can do this with a small event in Podunkville USA, then we can think about a series of events in urban areas to inform the general public on agriculture. It shouldn't be too hard to come up with a program which would inform and entertain. We also have a near perfect social media hook. The hashtag #kamikazecow.

As the entertainers will be judged to see who goes into the finals show, I decided to hold a Calcutta Auction to help some of the entertainers while raising money for the 4H Club and Christian Homeless Shelter. Bidders will have four choices of what to do with their winnings (and that choice along with the winning bidder's names) will be announced at the end of the day performance on February 5th. They will have the choice to donate to the 4H Club, the Christian Homeless Shelter, split their winnings between the two, or be greedy and keep it (Of course that last choice will be announced as well so I doubt if anyone will take that option)

So that bidders will have an idea of what kind of talent they are bidding on, participating entertainers will all perform an original poem, song or story with the same title...The Kamikaze Cow.
In case you are wondering, the title was inspired by an event a friend of mine had with rank cow high up on a ledge.

If you have any thoughts on this, leave a comment, then tweet it and post a comment on Facebook. Lets see if we can truly publicize an agricultural event using social media. If we are successful, then lets see what kinds of agricultural events we can design to bring in the John Q. Consumer!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Taking Cattle Through Gates

Last week I covered starting and moving your cattle in a way which instills herd instinct in your cattle. Taking cattle through gates can either be one of the easiest things we can do with our cattle or one of the most stressful things we can do to our cattle, and ourselves.

Too many people tend to wait to open the gate until all of the cattle have reached the gate. This results in the cattle being forcibly crowded up to the fence. This creates stress on the cattle as they do not like to be forced together. When we are moving pairs this assures that the cattle will not be paired once they are through the gate. If we can have the gate open before the cattle get there, it is a simple matter of pointing them towards the gate without stopping the motion.

If the motion does stop, the only two things we need to work on is keeping the everything pointing towards the gate, and getting the cattle at the front to go through without pushing from the back. When you do this properly all of the cattle will go together, strung out as a herd naturally moves. Once they start through, the lead may pick up speed and may even run and play a bit. As long as they are headed in the right direction there is nothing to worry about as they tend to slow down on their own.

The two hundred steers in the following video had only been on the place a week. The only other time I had moved them was taking them from the pens where they had been unloaded, to this pasture. Not only was this the first time they had been through this gate, the pup I was using is deaf, and I didn't have a shock collar. Needless to say she made a few mistakes (to put it mildly) but the steers still all made it through the gate, and acted as a herd once they went through.

Taking cattle through a gate in the middle of a fence is actually easier than taking them through a gate in a corner. Take the cattle to a point a hundred yards to either side of the gate and have them turn down the fence towards the gate. Ride along, or just in front of the lead animals. When you reach the gate, simply get in front of the lead animals and position yourself so that the lead will go around and by you. They will see the gate and go through easily.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Starting and Turning Your Cattle as a Herd

In my last post I described how to begin training cattle to act as a herd. When cattle begin acting as a herd, they will all be facing in the same direction when grazing, as in the picture. It doesn't matter if you have a herd of thirty, three hundred or over a thousand, the cattle will be facing the same direction like in this photo.

Their natural instinct at this point is for everyone to follow the lead animals. By simply taking advantage of their instinct to go by you, the cattle will automatically start up as you make your approach from the front. If you try starting them from the back you will not get them to go in the same direction. Starting the herd from the back is asking the cattle on the lower end of the pecking order to pass up the cattle which are higher on the order. Rather than pass them up directly they will tend to go around them, resulting in the cattle starting out in three different directions.

One thing you need to remember. Cattle are comfortable and relaxed in a tight situation if they feel it was their idea to do so. When you force them into the situation, it causes stress similar to being pursued by predators. Therefore it is in your best interest to handle them so that they want to act as a herd. Anything you do to work against their herd instinct will only make you work harder to move your cattle, let alone getting them to behave as a herd.

Another area of concern is turning your herd. When following a fence line, there is a tendency to ride between the cattle and the fence, from the back to turn them. This results in the back end turning before the front end and the cattle spreading out. When turning a herd in open country the tendency is often to ride at the shoulders of the lead cattle to force them to turn. Once again, the key word her is force. Anytime you are forcing the cattle to do something, you are creating stress in the cattle which creates more work for you and your horse.

When your cattle are acting as a herd (or if you are wanting them to start doing so) you need to take advantage of every situation to let them do what you want, rather than forcing them to do so. When the cattle are going down a fence, simply ride past the cattle from far enough out that you do not slow them down or stop them. When you are in front of the cattle turn and ride at an angle towards the lead cattle. As you are riding toward them, the lead cattle will actually speed up to go around you and turn in the direction you want. You may have to make an adjustment in how much they are turning, but with a little practice, they will be turning nearly exactly the angle you are wanting them to turn. Herd instinct will take over and the rest of the herd will follow on their own.

This same method will also work when changing direction in open country. Rather than forcing the cattle to turn set them up to go around you. For instance, if you want to turn the cattle to the left, ride ahead of the cattle on the left side of them. When you want them to turn, simply ride towards them at an angle. This will allow the cattle to follow their instinct to speed up and go around you. Once the lead has made their turn, you can simply stop and let the rest of the cattle to follow them.

You have probably noticed I use the terms “allow” and “let” quite a bit when describing how to move cattle. This is because when you are handling cattle correctly, you are only setting yourself up to take advantage of the natural instincts of cattle. Simply put, when you approach cattle in any manner their reactions are what their instincts are telling them to do. If you try forcing things you are working against their instinct to act calmly as a her. By keeping your patience and making the right approaches, you are allowing them to make their own decision to go where you want as a herd.

Next week we will discuss taking cattle through gates in a way which instills herd effect. If you have any questions be sure to post them in the comments and I will answer them!