How Long?

Posted July 9th, 2009 — Filed in Herding

Yes, Allan, you are correct in saying the herder should be able to just go to the herd once a day, start them grazing in the desired direction or move them to a new area and settle them there and then leave. But, probably anyone who is vitally interested in the answer to that question will never be able to herd cattle. If you are going to try to do this on a schedule, you are doomed to failure.

The actual amount of time required is as long as necessary for the herder to learn the skills needed to allow the cattle to feel comfortable in a herd and to learn how to diffuse movement and recognize when this movement is gone before he leaves the herd.

By the time Bud did the ordinary winter chores with the 200 head cow herd here in Alberta, the cows were in the right frame of mind to stay together as a herd and stay where they were put when they went to the bush country in the spring. He only moved these cattle about twice a week, but they were always found in the area where we had left them, and they were always together. The opposite side of the coin is that improper handling through the winter can undo the training a herder has put into a herd, making them difficult to handle when they go out onto the range in the spring.

Staying together as a herd is a natural condition for cattle and sheep. Once they learn to stay as a herd, they will continue to do so unless conditions teach the animals that they are better off not being in a herd situation.

For Bud, the 20 mile trail drive from where we unloaded the trucks to where we wanted to start the grazing season was more than enough time to teach the 400-500 pound steers to want to be in a herd and to be satisfied to stay where they were put. Bud would try to move these cattle every day, but he always left them in an area that would hold them for two days in case he wasn’t able to get back to them the next day. In the four years we took care of the winter grazing for the 3,000-4,000 head of stockers, there was only one time that a group of about 300 head left the area where we wanted them.

There is really no difference between sheep and cattle herding. The reason a sheep herder stays with the herd 24 hours a day is for predator protection. A friend of ours in Northern California ran his sheep in about as rough a country as you will find. Much of it was very deep canyons and steep openings going right to the cliffs along the ocean. No one in this area herded their sheep (at that time -1960’s – there was no coyote problem, now the coyotes have pretty well shut down the range-sheep industry in that part of the country). The sheep were always scattered over most of the place. Along with his other sheep, he would buy a flock of about 800 head of yearling ewes from herded sheep in Montana. These would always stay together and he would move them every week or so to areas the other sheep didn’t graze properly. When this flock got old, he sold them all and started again with a new group of yearlings. These sheep never lost the tendency to stay together, but because of the way he handled them, if he kept replacements from this flock they would eventually start to scatter.

Texas – rotationally grazed cattle and sheep – paddock sizes about 1000 acres. These sheep had never been herded and always pretty well covered the whole paddock when they were grazing. Each paddock had one spot where they would congregate to bed down. The manure in this area was excessive to say the least. We started finding some sheep that had been injured as well as some dead animals caused by, what turned out to be a lame coyote. It took the trapper about a month to catch him. During this time, we penned the sheep every night. They were gathered the way Bud teaches. This amount of correct handling resulted in a flock of sheep that stayed together all the time. They grazed these large paddocks as well as if you had a herder with them, never going back over a grazed area, and bedding-down wherever they happened to be. They continued to do this for several months after we stopped penning them.

Eunice