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.

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