Wednesday, December 16, 2015

On Ranch Stockmanship Training

Tired of sending your employees to stockmanship schools where they only use videos to teach? Try having them learn at home, with your cattle, under the conditions and situations they will actually be working under.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Funding Donations Demonstrates That Sports Entertainment More Important Than Agriculture

There is no doubt that there is a world wide disconnect between people and where their food comes from. This disconnect is nothing new. A prime example is the Pilgrims off of the Mayflower. In spite of living next to an ocean full of fish (not to mention clams, mussels, crabs, and lobsters exposed at low tide) and on a land with abundant wild game, they nearly starved to death. The reason? Virtually none of them had ever had to grow their own food.

Fifty years ago, roughly half the people in the United States were involved in agriculture. Today that figure is less than two percent. From all of the news stories condemning factory farms, GMO food crops, pesticides and herbicides,one may assume that the public is concerned about their food supply. However two different funding campaigns tell a different story.

The first campaign is one started on November 28, 2015. Team roper Jake Barnes was practicing in his arena in preparation for the National Finals Rodeo when his horse fell. The horse stepped on his head and Jake was rushed to the hospital. Within twenty four hours a GoFundMe account was set up for Jake's family. In only eleven days, this campaign received $125,000 out of the $150,000 goal, from four hundred fifty one people. That is an average of $277 per donation.  By all accounts, Jake is one of the good guys, and the family probably needs some help at this time. However why is it that a sports figure like this receives more donations in less than two weeks than a family farm who has been put in dire straights by their own government and bank can raise in three weeks?

Jervoise Station, in Queensland, Australia is owned by  Greg and Kerry Jonsson. Ahead of the curve, they changed their cattle operation to organic in 1979. In 2005 they purchased their own abattoir so they could insure that people buying their beef would have a totally healthy, chemical free product. The business was successful and growing.

Then in 2014, the government owned power company decided they required the property where the abattoir was on. The family was forced to part with their processing plant for less than they owed on it. Although the business had been thriving and growing prior to the government take over of their abattoir, the bank refused to work with them and declared their station to be insolvent. The bank eventually agreed to work with them to build a new abattoir on the station, but only if they can raise $250,000. Without this money the family stands to lose their beloved Jervoise Station and the fifty years of blood, sweat, and tears they have poured into it.

In contrast to the donation campaign for Jake Barnes, their campaign has only raised $19,020 over the last month. The donations averaged $98 from only one hundred ninety four people. Not to take away from Mr. Barnes's situation, but why is it that a person whose main contribution to society is in a relatively minor sport raises more money faster than a family raising food in both a health and ecologically responsible manner? To find out more about the Jonsson family situation and help them not only keep their station, but to also keep the station and cattle from reverting back to a less environmentally, health conscious operation, visit their #SaveJervoise fund raising website.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Herd Instinct At Work

The school at Sonoma Station in Queensland, Australia last year was difficult as the training area had enough timber we couldn't see all of the cattle as they were coming off water. A man showed up for the last day who accidentally sent some cattle down the wrong trail and they ended up nearly a mile from the rest of the herd. I couldn't use the video last year as I didn't realize the GoPro editing program as a zoom feature in it. Recently figured that out so we can look at the video and see what is going on. Amazing at how fast these cattle come into the rest of the herd!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Herd Building on Jervoise Station (A study of being unprepared for the task)

There are not many worthwhile endeavors in life where one can fly by the seat of their pants without any planning and succeed. The Jervoise project has more than proven that point. Being in the economic situation they are (See my last post) one can understand cutting some corners.

The two things lacking at Jervoise (which are currently being remedied) are water infrastructure and crew. In order for cattle to retain the desire to work as a herd, all stress needs to be remove, and this includes the stress of competing for water. No matter how much flow a drinker may have, if cattle numbers are so great they are fighting to get a drink, the cattle will not remain together as a herd. This was a big problem on Jervoise. The second problem was a lack of crew.

A big part of instilling herd instinct is being able to have all of the cattle head out from water to graze in the same direction as a herd. This presented a problem as we seldom had as many as four people to keep track of over three thousand head coming off of water in a timbered area. Despite that fact, the cattle did act as a herd...until we put them in a situation where they were stressed by having to wait in line for a drink. The problems of water and crew are being addressed and the plan is to try it again after the wet season. In the meantime, here is a video showing the basics of getting a large herd of cattle to acting as a single herd.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Jervoise Station Introduction

I recently spent three months on Jervoise Station in Queensland, Australia. This integrated organic cattle/beef operation is an example of government and banking gone terribly wrong. The government owned power company decided it "needed" the land their abattoir (packing plant) was on and forced them off the property for pennies on the dollar. If this wasn't bad enough, their bank decided that their growing meat business was not worth reinvesting in, applied what little money they received against their loan and began a campaign to force them off the cattle station.

Last summer they acquired Rodger Savory as station manager, who has bought them some time, but they are still needing to build a new abattoir on the station to save their place.
Save Jervoise Organic Station from insight creative on Vimeo.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Herd Instinct and Predator/Prey Relationships

The main theory of why grazing animals form large herds is because of pressure from predators. In fact I believe the opposite may be true, that predator behavior is ruled by the behavior of prey animals.

I arrived at this decision through decades of observing the behavior of both wild grazers and cattle.  In learning what it takes for cattle to exhibit herd instinct as the vast herds of the African Savannah, a few glaring facts have emerged.

  1. The ONLY time cattle will graze as a herd is when they have no stress.
  2. The density of a grazing herd is determined by the density of available feed.  When feed is sparse, they may spread out 100 yards between animals. When feed is dense, these same animals will graze within inches of each other.
  3.  Apply enough stress on cattle which are acting as a herd and it will take less than a day for them to scatter far and wide.
  4. When cattle are acting as a herd, they tend to follow the fresh feed in front of them rather than continually grazing in the same small area.
  5. Younger, weaker, and those closest to giving birth are at the back of the herd.

 With these facts in mind, let us look at when the vast herds of the African Savannah form. During the rainy season, when there is abundant feed and water. They move as they graze not from predator pressure, but to keep moving to fresh feed just as domesticated cattle do when they are acting as a herd, grazing or trampling all vegetation in their path.

Once the rainy season has passed, these herds are stressed from less abundant green feed and fresh water, they behave the same domesticated cattle which are acting as a herd do to stress. They scatter out in small groups and go back to selective grazing.

In making these observations it would seem that the herd behavior of grazing animals is dictated not by predators, but the availability of feed and water. This would also mean that, rather than herd behavior being dictated by predator pressure, that predator behavior is dictated by the behavior of grazing animals. Just the opposite of what conventional wisdom has been claiming.

For information on changing cattle behavior to enable following holistic grazing plans without cutting your pastures into small paddocks, visit http://naturalcattlehandlingcom

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Month Long Holistic "Herd Building" Stockmanship Schools

The recently formed partnership between Rodger Savory of Savory Grasslands Management and Jervoise Station, is not only changing the grazing management from conventional to holistic, but also transforming the station into a holistic grazing learning center.

The 70,000 acre Jervoise Station is the first Savory Institute satellite Hub in Australia. For their first educational opportunity, they have invited Bob Kinford to put on three, one month  "Herd Building" stockmanship schools. These schools will be similar to the one sponsored last fall by Queensland Dry Tropics. However the length of these schools will give students a better understanding of not only building herd instinct, but in actually taking the  cattle through a grazing plan without the use of cross fencing.

 In the past, schools were only a week long. While that is long enough to bring herds of 1,000 cows into "herd mode" it was hard for students to break their old habits of conventional stockmanship. These longer schools will give students a chance to break their old habits and establish themselves in a group of elite cattlemen, with a unique set of skills. This will qualify them for employment not only on stations practicing Holistic management in North Queensland, but anywhere in the world this style of grazing is practiced.

For more information on enrolling in these schools, email Jervoise Station. 
 Bob Kinford's website.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Multi-paddock VS Herd Instinct Effeciency/Cost Comparison

This weeks post ties in with my last post of How do you know you are doing a good job? Make no doubt about it, multi-paddock grazing greatly improves the soil while increasing your carrying capacity and your bottom line. Just how does multi-paddock stack up to building  and using herd instinct in your cattle?

The claim is that moving fences is easy, and in many cases, only takes a few minutes. At roughly 3:58 in this video, the man explains that it takes him 18 minutes to run the wire for his electric fence, then he has to move the cows. Later he says he is doing this up to five times a day. That may not sound like much until you start adding up the time.

That is an hour and a half a day or 45 hours a month during the growing season. Where he is, that is roughly 5 months,or 225 hours. Of course this does not take into account drive time, or fixing fence, or the cost involved in posts wire, chargers and moving portable water points etc.

Using herd instinct to his advantage, and increasing his pastures to 100 acres would give him roughly 20 days feed. Time spent to have cattle graze in exactly the same manner would amount to going out once a day to check on the cattle by simply going to the front and having the cattle walk past him would be roughly 20 minutes a day.or the equivalent of 5 work weeks in other professions... Or one and a quarter month's vacation. Even figuring his time at only $10 an hour using herd instinct would save him $2,000 over the course of the growing season in time alone.

So the first question on everyone's mind is "What about herd density?" Not to worry, cattle behaving as a herd will graze at least as tight as when forced into it by fencing, if not tighter as in the following picture.
The above picture is a herd of 528 cows (many with calves) in a 200 acre pasture. They were this tight because they wanted to be this tight, not because they were forced into it. In the long run, the stress reduction of them wanting to be in a tight area vs being forced into one will result in heavier calves adding even more to your bottom line. 
The second question is always "What about back grazing?" Why would there be? Cattle prefer fresh feed. In small pastures they will start on the perimeter and graze around. When they go to water, they will go back to where they left off to resume grazing. Once the have grazed around the pasture, they move in to the next strip on their own, continuing to follow the fresh feed, until there is no more fresh feed. At that time, simply move them into the next field. 
For more information and videos, my website.

Monday, June 8, 2015

How Do You Know You Do A Good Job?

If Bud Williams was even half right with his opinion that "95% of the people who work cattle for a living, have no idea how cattle really work" would mean that roughly half of the ranchers and hired hands have never seen cattle worked right. With that in mind, how sure are you that you are really doing a good job handling cattle? If you haven't seen cattle worked in the right way, then how can you get a clue you aren't doing it as well as you could?

The following is a short list of common problems. If you don't have any of these problems, congratulations, you are doing an excellent job. If you have fewer than four of these problems on a regular basis, you are doing a fairly good job. If you have more than half of these problems, you may be getting the job done, but thinking you are doing a good job is only your ego talking.

1) If you blame the cattle for how they react to you 
2) Your cattle won't stay where you put them
3) You have a lot of herd quitters
4) Cattle won't stay paired when you are driving them
5) Cattle are wild in the pens
6) Cattle won't go by you when sorting
7) You need rattle paddles or flags to sort cattle
8) Cattle can't find the gate
9) Cattle want to run off instead of going into the pens
10) You have areas where it is a foregone conclusion the cattle are going to give you a problem

The first step in getting better at the job is realizing that nearly everything they do is a direct response to how we are handling them in that situation. The second step is realizing that it is often possible to get the reaction you want out of a cow without putting pressure directly on the cow, and learn how to get the desired response without applying more pressure. There are plenty of websites and videos on the internet to help you get started on the right path.

Another difficult area for ranchers to really know how good a job they are doing is in grass management. Once again, if you are only comparing your pastures to your neighbors, chances are you have no idea of how much grass you could really have. NRCS has  drastically changing their grazing recommendations in the last few years as demonstrated in this video.  

The point to all of this is we are all biased to think we are doing a good job on the ranch. But how much room do we have to drastically improve the quality of our work?

It is possible for most ranches to increase the pounds of beef they produce per animal by simply changing the way they handle their cattle. This actually requires less labor than what they are doing now to increase their profits.

The majority of ranches could also increase forage production enough to increase stocking rates by changing how they graze. While the average ranch reduced stocking rates and fed more supplement, other  ranches managed to actually increase forage enough to increase stocking rates while feeding no supplemental feed.

While many ranches judge their overall performance on average weaning weights, the most successful ranches strive for the most pounds of beef marketed per acre. Do you still think you are doing a good job on your ranch? If you think you have room for improvement, visit Natural Cattle Handling for more information as well as other educational links.