Saturday, August 10, 2013

Releasing The Flerd

I have been asked why this particular combination  of animals, and why combine them at all. The reason behind these species is that they just happen to be on this ranch. There are also getting to be more ranches which deal in exotic species rather than cattle or other livestock normally raised on ranches. While the numbers are not high enough to get a lot of animal impact (especially when the pastures are 1,000 acres or larger.) The intent of this experiment is to show that flerds consisting of exotic animals (or a mix of exotic and "normal" livestock) can be herded through a holistic grazing plan. The animal impact will be a bit different as they will spread out more with each species in their own group, but will still have control on which pastures they will graze and when they will graze them.

This week the burros were trapped in a pen and added to the flerd. I put the burros in a pen by themselves and just sat there for a bit, Then I positioned myself so the burros would go past me. The first few times they went pretty fast. By the fourth or fifth time they figured out they weren't being chased and slowed down to a walk. I worked them around me a few times and when they got to the point I could stop them easily, I turned them out with the rest of the flerd.

By Friday everything in the pens was getting along fairly well. On Friday I turned the flerd out into a small trap of several hundred acres. I held the burros back and let them out of the pen last, rode past them to the longhorns in the lead, and turned them back to have everything grazing across the west side of the trap. Once I got them headed the way I wanted I went back and bumped the burros a little farther from the gate, stopped them and rode off. I had a bad video week (capped off by closing the lens cover  as I was letting them out) so I don't have any video this week. On Sunday I will be moving them around the trap, and turning them into an adjacent pasture on Monday. It will be interesting to see how far apart the various species stay from each other, and how putting them together and moving them as a group will work (or if I'll have to move each species as a separate group.) Hopefully I'll have some decent video next week, but in the meantime, enjoy these pictures.

 The above picture shows just how much the burros have settled down. When they were first turned in they refused to allow a lama or alpaca to get close to them.
This is definitely a mismatch, but this alpaca doesn't seem to notice the size difference.

     Here is the flerd after I turned them out. The burros had stopped just outside the gate and I moved them about fifty yards then stopped them. It will be interesting to see how well everything moves together when I turn them out in the pasture this week. Hopefully I'll get some usable video!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Flerding Experiment

The Circle Ranch has asked me to develop a multi species herd (called a flerd) out of some of the animals on the ranch.The plan is to create a flerd by combining horses, longhorn cattle, lamas, alpacas and BLM burros. 

The burros have not been handled, so the hardest part will be getting them into the pens. Last Tuesday I managed to get them from the Middle Pasture into a trap next to headquarters. To accomplish this I opened the gate I wanted them to go through and rode to the back of the pasture. As soon as I spotted the burros I stopped and stood there until they started moving away from me, then dropped out of site.  There was a stud horse and two geldings at the gate when the burros reached it. When the stud made a short charge at the burros, I was far enough out that I loped in the same direction as the burros and managed to stop them. After nearly an hour of applying and releasing pressure a single step at a time, the burros left and the horses followed them through the gate. I continued acclimating them to seeing a person horseback for a couple of hours. When I decided they had enough for the day, I released them to walk down a fence. Unfortunately, when they reached the county road (and a cattle guard) the stud horse made another run at them, chasing them across the cattle guard, and following them into the next trap. I waited until things calmed down and removed the stud horse and his compadres to another pasture where they will be out of the way.

In the meantime, the rest of the flerd is beginning to shape up. There are peculiar challenges with this project, mainly with the alpacas and lamas. The males of these two species fight for dominance on a daily basis, which makes it difficult to combine groups of these species with each other, let alone other species. Interestingly enough, it seems that the neutered alpacas and lamas will still fight for dominance. To get around this I have removed the most aggressive males. They still fight, but the fights are a lot shorter.

In order to keep the stress levels as low as possible, I work these animals around a pen, or through several pens. Then I place the animals on feed in a separate pen. I cannot stress stress enough on how much stress is created by calling animals to feed. When we create the "Pavlov's Dog" response in animals the more aggressive animals are always on feed first leaving those lower in the pecking order to fight over what is left. Cattle which are grazing as a herd and acting as a herd will begin eating then scattering out after being fed because of the stress. However, by placing stock on feed this extra stress is removed. As you will see in the video below, the varied species in this flerd are beginning to eat with each other in only six days. This is largely because they are being placed on feed rather than going through the stress of the horses driving the cattle off feed and the cattle driving off the lamas and alpacas.