Saturday, September 29, 2012

Herding Through a 32,000 Acre Grazing Plan (without small paddocks)

This is the first in a series of blog posts on using low stress cattle handling methods to grazed cattle holistically through an intensive grazing plan. The Circle ranch is basically a recreational hunting ranch that was in extremely poor condition when the Gill family acquired it. They have been steadily improving habitat and forage diversity/density through a combination of sub-soiling and holistic grazing.

Through this winter I will be herding 400 cows through a 32,000 acre grazing plan on the Circle Ranch in far west Texas, owned by Chris and Laura Gill and their family. The grazing plan was developed by Guy Glosson who is both a low stress cattle handling expert and holistic manager.

The key to this method is designing your water system so that you can water all of the cattle at one water point. On the surface, this may seem to be a big expense, but once you do this, time and money is saved by having fewer water points to check and maintain. Benefits to this method are
  1. You can follow grazing plans without the expense of buying, moving and maintaining large amounts of electric fence.
  2. You see your cash crop (cattle) several times a week and keep on top of health issues.
  3. Areas grazed are done so more uniformly when cattle are acting as a herd.
  4. Desired animal impact is concentrated and more effective when cattle are acting as a herd.
  5. You can graze rough or rocky areas not normally grazed.
  6. It is possible to precision graze the areas you want, while giving rest to other areas by cattle placement.
  7. Cattle tend to run off coyotes when grazing as a herd (possibly wolves as well).
  8. Cattle working as a herd are easier to manage in riparian areas.
  9. Cattle being moved in this way are easier to handle in the working pens, adding to shipping weights through less stress induced shrink.
  10. As cattle are consistently being moved to fresh feed, without stress, ADG's on yearlings, and weaning weights will be higher.

The following picture is an example of precision grazing. If the cattle had been completely trained when grazing, the impact would have been more concentrated.This area had been basically bare ground before sub-soiling. After the rain, forbes and a little grass grew on this spot. I placed the cattle on this area, where they returned for two days. You can see that grass has been grazed, and weeds have been trampled, as well as some fertilization. Next year this area will have more grass and forbes as a result of the combination of sub-soiling and grazing.

Depending on the class of cattle, and environment the training period will take anywhere from a week to five weeks (Rugged or brushy terrain will take longer, as well as cows with a lifetime of being scattered out) The training period on this set of cattle will most likely take three to four weeks as the cattle are coming in a few at a time. The first 100 dry cows came in on Saturday September 21st with an additional 53 pairs added on the 22nd. The following picture was taken on September 26th, with the cattle basically acting as a herd.

On the morning of the 27th, the weather changed with a big temperature drop and the cattle headed into the brush, splitting into two groups, with one group splitting again. I added another 60 pair on the 29th, with the weather being cold and rainy (had 1 ½ inches over 24 hours). On Monday, October 1st, I will start putting them back together.The following picture was taken the day before the weather drifted them into the brush.
Next week will be spent re-grouping, changing pastures and adding cattle. I will be posting the procedures and results as well as pictures and hopefully video.