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Migratory Grazing

..Blending the science of grazing with the art of stockmanship

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Rebooting Herd Instinct

Perhaps the first thing we need to think of before trying to wrap our mind around rebooting herd instinct in cattle, is to think about when and why the wild mega herds came together. The popular idea is that predators drive the herds, which considering there are roughly the same number of predators year round, doesn't seem logical, especially when you think of when they come together, and when they break apart into smaller herds. 

The mega herds of herbivores come together after the start of they wet season, which also coincides with their breeding season. Feed and water are plentiful, and there is no stress from competing for feed and water while at the same time, a diverse genetic pool for breeding. Herbivores are following their food source while the predators are following theirs. All of this activity, following the cycle of grass and water. As soon as feed and water become scarce enough that animals must compete for it, the herds disperse back into smaller herds. After a lifetime of observing cattle,  and receiving reports from people who have successfully rebooted herd instinct back into their cattle, I believe there is a strong possibility that the smaller herds are largely made up of related females.

When we look at the reasons behind why cattle don't "normally" act as a herd it becomes obvious why they scatter out. Number one reason is we have actively trained them to scatter out. First we somehow got the notion that it was easier on the land to scatter them across the landscape.  We build water systems which force them to compete for water so that cattle in the same pasture are often drinking at separate times in order to avoid the competition. Adding to that is the added stress from the way they are handled. 

Even low stress stockmanship relies on "pressure and release" and describes reactions with the term "fight or flight." The stockmanship used to reboot herd instinct utilizes a lot of counter intuitive methods which rely on instincts we don't recognize because we are too busy putting pressure on cattle.

The main thing necessary to reboot herd instinct is removing stress. The main stress factor in addition to handling is water. It is important that cattle can go to drink as a herd without competing for a drink. This can often be accomplished in a variety of ways, at a minimal expense, and in the long run will cut operational expenses. While running all of your cattle in one herd is the fastest way to regenerate forage, if you are wanting to see results before investing in infrastructure, it is possible to run two or more herds in separate pastures so you can see the difference.

Once the water situation is accounted for, the next step is setting all of the cattle on the same drinking schedule and getting out of their way so they can make the decision to become a herd. The short videos below will give you an idea of the changes, which are explained in better detail in Stockmanship 101 (trailer is to the right, and is available on Amazon.)  

 

 

Starting Cattle Naturally 

Fade Turn....turning by removing pressure

 

Having cattle go around you in the direction you want with a hip turn, rather than pushing them. This was taken at my first school in Australia.

 

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Stockmanship 101

Stockmanship 101 is a drone based video explaining why we need to practice regenerative grazing, and demonstrates how to instill herd instinct within five days. Filmed on a ranch in far west Texas, this set of cattle went from fairly wild to tame and behaving as a herd. Available at Amazon. The trailer below will give you an idea of the video, as well as an idea of how fast you can change your cattle.