Posted July 11th, 2009 — Filed in Herding
I have been asked to give my opinion about the feasibility of herding livestock in open range conditions. I have been involved in this type of livestock work for a good many years and consider it not only possible, but preferable, under many conditions, to using fences to control the livestock. Following are a few instances which might give you some idea of what I am talking about.
1975 . . .Eden Valley Ranch, near Willits, California 27,000 deeded acres, plus Forest Service leases. There was one line fence on the west side. The north and south is bounded by a river which the cattle could easily cross. We had a few holding pastures near the buildings. This was the limit of the fencing. In the early Fall we brought in 3,000 head of 400-500 pound calves to winter here, along with the 200 first calf heifers that had spent the summer at Eden Valley. These were just auction yard calves. They were held in Arcata, CA for a week or so until they were weaned, then shipped to us in groups of about 300, twice a week. The livestock trucks could only get to the south end of the ranch. The calves were held in a pasture overnight. The next morning my wife and I would drive them the 20+ miles to the north end of the ranch where I wanted to start the grazing season. Since this country is very broken up with grassy openings scattered throughout the timber country, I was seldom able to have the entire 3,000 head in one herd. I rode every day placing the correct amount of cattle in an area I felt would hold them for two days. Depending on the feed, they were usually in bunches of 500 to 1,000 head. I started the grazing season on the north end of the ranch at about 2,000 feet elevation. By placing the cattle where I wanted them, we were able to complete the grazing of the north side of the mountain and have them over the summit (4,100 feet elevation) and grazing the south slope by the time the hard weather hit. There was only one time in the three years we managed this ranch that I had to go get cattle that had left where I had placed them.
1990-1995 . . . Alberta, Canada . . . The Bush Country. This is primarily muskeg, brush and softwood trees that grow very close together. There is just about room enough for a horse and one knee to go between the trees. The rancher I worked with said it usually took several people about two weeks of hard riding to gather the cattle in the fall, and even then, they were always short cattle. These would usually show up with the neighbor’s herd when the weather drove them out. I handled these cattle some during the winter just doing the normal things that had to be done. The next spring when we put them in the bush, I handled them the way I feel is necessary to make them content to stay where I put them. About twice a week I would move the herd to new feed. At no time did the cattle ever scatter out. If I did my job and left them where there was sufficient feed, they were always right there when I went back 2-4 days later. When we went up to gather in the fall, since the cattle were always together, three people had every animal in the corral in less than half a day. In the fall of the year, all the cattle in that part of the country travel through this area on their way home. Most years, the cattle decide to come in before the ranchers would like them to. In 1993, we saved a fenced in area to put our cattle in, in late fall so they would not get mixed up with the migrating herds. The only problem was, it was an extremely dry year, and the pond we were depending on for water had dried up. We had no choice but to leave the gate open so they could water at a nearby lake. They traveled across the path of the migrating herds twice a day to water, but they always went back to the pasture where I had left them to graze. Not one of our animals went with the other cattle.
1980 … Candle, Alaska . . . near the west coast of Alaska, right on the Arctic Circle. Reindeer running on five million acres. No fences except for the mile or so of wing fence leading into the corrals. The reindeer herd of 3,000 head which I looked after was located about 25 miles from Candle. The University of Alaska wanted to have a week long workshop for the people in the reindeer industry. I was in charge of furnishing the deer for the workshop as well as putting on some of the demonstrations. The old reindeer herders said “You will not even be able to drive any reindeer close to the village, let alone keep them there.” Since most of the reindeer work was to be done by a young Eskimo man who worked with me, I split the 500-600 head he would be working away from the main herd about two weeks before the workshop was to begin so we could spend a little extra time with them. We brought the reindeer into Candle the day before the people were to arrive so we could walk them up and down the airstrip to pack the snow. This way, the planes could land on wheels and not have to put on skis. We placed the deer on the hill just above the airstrip. More than 100 people attended the workshop. Since most of the planes only carried four or five people, it was a pretty busy little airstrip to bring in all the people and supplies for seven days. At least one person on every plane that landed told us “The reindeer will be gone in the morning.” Well, the next morning the reindeer were right where we left them. We gathered them up and drove them into the village where the various demonstrations were held. At the end of the day, I put them about a quarter of a mile from Candle where I knew the feed was good. Each day we would bring them into the village, and each evening we would put them back out to graze. Not once did they stray from where they were placed. At the end of the workshop we drove them back to the main herd.