In Northern California in 1955 there was still at least one person who was raising pasture pigs and finishing them on acorns. He would breed about 50 sows to have pigs in February and March. In April, he would go into the mountains with the sows and their pigs. The pigs were herded by one man. Someone would bring supplies to him each week. These animals grazed thru the spring and summer on grass. Then when fall came there was some grass and lots of acorns. When the young pigs got fat they were brought to the valley and sent to market. The sows were bred again and they were ready to start a new year. The person would herd 300 pigs or more for about eight months. For people who want to have pasture pigs, it really helps to take a little time and learn how to work pigs. Pigs have been kept in pens for so many years that there are not that many people who know how to work them out in open areas. They are not that hard to work. Lack of knowledge is the major problem.
In 1957, Eunice and I went to work on a large mountain ranch. One job we had was to keep a large herd of cows and calves from staying along this small stream all summer. Each day we would drive the cows away from the stream and up to really good feed. The next morning they would be back at the stream. There was lots of feed, water, and minerals where we were taking them. Since I am a very slow thinker, it took a while to realize they needed more than that. We started paying attention to how the animals reacted to what we did to move them. Each day we would change what was done to drive the animals. After a few days we were getting better at driving them the way they wanted to be driven. It was not all that good, but it was good enough that the cattle would stay where we put them. We would go each day and move the cattle to a new area. They were not all in one herd, but they did stay on the mountain, not on the stream.
The next job was on a 50,000 acre ranch. We had two herds of about 350 cows each and 800 ewes. This was in 1961, and ranchers at that time wanted the animals spread out over the summer range. In a livestock magazine I had read about a dairy that divided 28 acres into 28 pastures. They put all of the cows in one pasture and moved them each day to a new pasture. They said how much the production from the pasture increased.
After reading what they did, I was sure I could do the same. We would not be allowed to build any fence, and the owner did not want them in one herd, but because Eunice and I were doing the work of several men he grudgingly allowed us to work with one of the herds. He was sure we were just running the weight off the calves. To keep the animals all in one herd was very interesting. To then take them to areas they had never grazed before and get them to stay made me realize we needed to learn more about working the animals better. As we learned more, it was possible to do a better and better job. That fall the calves we “ran the weight off” were heavier than they had ever been. The low country had not been used during the summer, so we had lots of feed for the winter.
After these two experiences and many others along the way, I started to understand how important it was to work the animals properly. Until then, my main purpose was to graze the pastures better. In order to do this I realized I must learn how to work the animals better. This is when I really went to work trying to understand what the animals need and want.
To start a new venture with animals or change what you are doing, the best and easiest way to succeed is to learn how to work the animals the way they want to be worked under the new conditions. Fences help and in smaller areas are cost effective.
Using feed to move animals may be easier in the short term, but it is certainly not the best way.
After saying this I know most people will not change. Also, I do not expect or want them to change. This is just for the people who would like to do better. It may seem easier to use feed to move animals if we don’t take the time to learn how to work them properly. It’s easier, just not better. If we work our animals properly, they will perform better and utilize the feed better.
There is a big difference between being able to call animals and using feed to move them. Also there is a big difference in the way animals are called. We can call and have them come because they are trained to come, or we can get them to come by getting them excited because they will get feed or new feed. Fast or excitement is not usually good with animals. To work them properly will get the job done in less time, and everything will be calm and unexcited. When animals are moved, there should be a bigger concern than just how fast it can be done. How they are moved has an effect on many things which can cause good or bad things to happen.
Learn to work your livestock better, then you can Smile and Mean it!