Saturday, August 25, 2018

Forensic Grazing Study

 Looking to the past to determine what we do in the future is as important years into regenerative grazing programs as it is in the beginning of them. When converting from conventional or rotational grazing to regenerative grazing, it is important for a person to recognize the grazing behavior that has caused their forage to degrade. It helps them to understand both the causes of the degradation as well as the cure. For those years into a program, it helps them identify areas which need changes in impact. A recent trip where I visited a ranch considering the change, and another which made the change several years ago are good examples.

The first ranch was starting to make the change, recognized the fact their pastures were going backwards, but weren't sure why. Rather than doing a grass survey, we did a Forensic Grazing Study. Rather than looking at the amount of grass, we examined what the grazing patterns had been under their conventional rotation. It was easy for them to see what areas had been over grazed as well as what areas had been under grazed. At the same time, this made it easy for them to understand the changes needed to begin regenerating the pasture, and how it could be done without added outputs for fencing or water (By rebooting their herd instinct and practicing IMG, they will actually be able to reduce their number of water points.)

The second ranch had been using a fencing system for several years. As the country was hilly, and fairly steep in areas, the cells were larger than normally used in these systems (500 acres and up.) While they had made dramatic progress over the last few years, the herd of 700 cows has not impacted the paddocks evenly. Cutting back and forth across the paddocks we were able to identify areas which had barely been impacted, along with areas were grasses were still receiving that second bite to retard plant recovery. There were some areas where there was oxidized litter preventing rain from reaching the ground, and some areas which had reached a plateau of recovery and starting to regress.

All of these things were discovered by crisscrossing the pasture horseback rather than driving through and conducting a grass survey.  His choices to improve his grazing distribution were to either build and maintain more fence, or reboot herd instinct in his cattle. That way, if cattle miss a spot while migrating around the pasture, he will be able to easily spot graze the places which need the additional impact without the headache of adding more "recreational fencing."

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Stress, Suicide, and Cattle Behavior

During a conversation with a friend last week, he received a phone call that changed the direction of our conversation. His friend that called was trying to figure out how to console his teen aged daughters who had a friend commit suicide. The girl had been outgoing and popular with a lot of friends. Outwardly she was happy and had everything to live for. Her friends and family had no idea that inside, she was a tortured soul.

We all miss signs that a family member, friend or acquaintence is under stress or depressed. Sometimes it can go on for years, especially if the person fails to acknowledge they have a problem. We begin to to accept the personality changes of people suffering from depression or stress as simply "that is the way they are" without questioning the changes in their behavior. Often we end friendships or marriages without realizing those people were suffereing from stress or depression, or even realizing the stress we are under because of their stress induced behavior.

So how does all of this relate to cattle behavior? It is basically one and the same. We look at cattle behavior as "that is just the way cattle are." We search pastures looking for all of the scattered out cattle without questioning why these supposedly herd animals do anything except graze together as a herd. We take it for granted that cattle don't eat weeds without questioning why they don't eat these plants which may have a higher nutritional value than grass. As long as the cattle are eating and not bouncing off the fences we consider them to be acting "normal" and not under stress. That is like observing prisoners of a concentration camp going through their routine and accepting it as normal, stress free behavior because they aren't rebelling...that the barbed wire and machine gun toting guards somehow alleviate stress and depression.

Wrapping our minds around the fact our cattle are stressed, and breaking stockmanship habits is the hardest part of releiving stress from our cattle. Once we accomplish that the changes in their behavior is nothing less than astounding. No longer do they repeatedly back graze the "sweet spots." They graze together as a herd, sometimes tighter than they do when being controlled by "recreational fencing," and begin to eat the weeds we control by spraying because the "cattle won't eat them."

The day before my friend's phone conversation, we worked with his cattle. He was close to having them working as a herd, and needed a few pointers. That one day resulted in his cattle not only coming together as a herd and grazing as a big swather, they were mowing down different varieties of weeds, and bedding down in hemp, all of which they were previously avoiding. In doing so they were opening up these areas so grass could grow, and trampling areas of hard packed ground so rain could penetrate the surface instead of running off. In short, by relieveing the stress he couldn't see, it changed the beavior of his cattle in ways he could barely imagine.
For more information on changing the behavior of your cattle for the better, visit