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Monday, August 23, 2010

Reducing output costs by herding your cattle

The great myth about herding is that it is too labor intensive. Actually, herding is the simplest, most efficient way to follow your holistic grazing program.
     The first thing we need to do in order to accomplish all of this is to recognize what cattle look and act like when acting as a herd. When cattle are grazing as a herd, they will be as close together as feed density allows, with all of the cattle facing in the same direction. When the herd leader decides to move to fresh feed, it will walk out several hundred feet and start grazing. As this first animal walks off, the rest will start following, going in single file, just as you normally see cattle go to water. When cattle are acting as a herd, when you take them through a gate in a new pasture, they will stay together, and if you stop them they will start grazing and stay together.
     The second thing is to train ourselves to handle cattle in a way that will allow them to act as a herd. This will often mean forgetting most of what we know about moving cattle, and learn how to move them in a way which allows them to act as a herd. This is easier than it sounds, and there is more than one way to do it.
     The trick is to allow cattle to move in the same way they would if they were moving on their own. How do cattle go into water, in a tight bunch, or strung out in single file? If cattle walk a fence, how do they travel?
Even though cattle travel in single file, we tend to force them to travel in a way which goes against their natural instinct, which in turn removes the instinct to act as a herd.

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     One of the natural instincts (which we seldom use to our advantage) is the fact that a cow will walk past you easier (with less stress) than it will drive away from you. Once cattle are moving out, if we ride to the front of the herd (far enough out that we don't slow or stop the ones we have passed). Then move in closer to the cattle and simply ride against them. Their reaction will be to speed up as we approach. When first starting this method, you will need to read your cattle closely. If they start slowing down, or acting like they are going to turn around, keep moving against the flow of cattle, but adjust your distance away from them so that they don't feel pressured and go by you to catch up with the other cattle in front of them.
During the training stage you will probably want another person with you, but as soon as the cattle start picking up and going by you, they will start holding together as a herd, and one person will easily be able to move up to a thousand head of cattle at a time.
     Once your cattle are acting as a herd, you will be able to move them wherever you want, and have them not only stay together, but return to the same place after going to water. This will allow you to place cattle on a daily, or near daily basis on the places which need to be grazed most in your pasture. You will be able to graze those rough spots your cattle normally do not utilize. In addition, your cattle are easier to work when in the pens, and you can monitor herd health and inventory several times a week.
     Herding eliminates the labor and associated costs of either moving temporary electric fences, or building new fences for additional grazing cells. On desert operations, it allows you to concentrate your water into fewer locations saving evaporation loss, as well as maintenance costs due to fewer miles of water line. Rather than spending money to make wildlife modifications on existing fences, you will be able to remove the whole fence and never spend another dime (or minute) on maintaining that fence.
In essence, herding is the one thing you can do to reduce the overall output costs while improving your pasture and herd performance!

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