Sunday, February 10, 2013

Observe, Ask and Analyze

Much of what we assume we know is a result of how much we think (or don't think) about what we experience. All of what we do with livestock is based on what our past experiences have been. Until we change how we observe and think about why animals react to us the way we do, we cannot make any meaningful changes in how we do things.

Some reactions to my last post, are perfect examples. Several of them were up in arms. They threw out examples of individual bison leaving a herd to chase horses and even one which apparently broke into a pen to gore some horses. It would not be reasonable to assume the entire human race violent based on Charles Manson, Hitler and Stalin, so why do we do it with the animals we handle?

It doesn't matter if we are working with bison, elk, horse or (insert breed) of cattle, other than a few individuals, their overall temperament and behavior relies heavily upon how frequently and what methods are used in handling them. The problem lies in the fact that when an animal does something we don't like (such as charging a horse) people tend to look at the behavior as an independent action rather than as a reaction to what we have done. In our eyes we may have not done anything to warrant that (re) action. However we need to take into account how the animal(s) have been handled in the past that has instilled these behaviors into them. I've run across people who own ranches (as opposed to ranchers) who refuse to work cattle with horses because “horses make cattle wild” or that horses are “too unpredictable and hard to handle.” The simple fact is, as stockmen and horsemen, we need to not simply acknowledge that an animal or group of animals is unruly or mean. We need to observe when they are reacting in negative ways and be introspective as to our actions immediately prior to the negative behavior. In order to modify the behavior of our livestock, we must first observe and recognize their behavior to the point we recognize the negative behavior before it actually happens.

This philosophy of observing and analyzing goes far beyond just improving the behavior of our livestock. All too often the deterioration of our pastures is not noticed until it is a borderline disaster. We need to continually observe, and think about our observations.

The pasture I am in now appears to have healthy grass from a distance. However there are large areas that upon close observation have large amounts grass at the base which are gray and matted. This makes me ask myself which would be more beneficial; taking only a third of the grass as planned, or taking more grass while breaking up more of the dead plants?

Another observation I have made concerns water availability and predators. There is a theory that having more water points makes it harder on predators than having just a few “ambush” points. What I have observed is that there are more coyotes in the pastures which have a higher number of water points. Now that the observation has been made, we need to ask a question and analyze it. The question is “does fewer water points help predators by reducing ambush points, or does having more water points simply support more packs of coyotes?”

For our ranching operations to be as successful as possible, we need to observe, ask and analyze instead of simply reacting without analyzing.

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