October 25, 2005 . . . . I live in Australia and have been cell grazing for the past 18 months. . . . . My immediate problem is that I run between 600 – 800 head of cattle on a four thousand two hundred acre property. In one cell I have dry cows, steers, weaners, heifers and for the last 18mths have had no trouble. I have quiet moves, no running, the cattle follow me quietly to the next paddock then go off and graze. I am able to walk through the mob while they graze checking if any individual animal needs attention. Just recently, as soon as they hear my bike they run from out of the hills. It’s like disturbing a rat’s nest. After four years of drought, this is the best season we have had for a long time, there is more feed now than we have had since beginning cell grazing, they are only on short graze periods because of the rapid growth rate of pasture, and I know the problem is me, but cannot understand or pinpoint what I am doing differently to cause this problem after so long with no problems. They are now stressed and I am stressed watching this happen. Could you please give me a hint at what I am doing wrong so the problem might be solved as to alleviate the stress on my stock and myself? I would be most grateful for any assistance and I am looking forward to your reply.
The animals have learned that when they hear your bike, they go to fresh feed. For a while, they moved because you moved them. Now they are moving because they are going to fresh feed. In order to stop this you will need to work with the animals until they only move because you want them to. When they come to the gate, don’t let them into the new paddock until they are quiet. This might take a while. Quietly move them away from the gate then let them come back. If they come back slowly let them through the gate – otherwise drive them away again. Do this slowly and don’t worry about how far they go. Just get their mind off of going to new feed. You can also open the gate and go into the new paddock ahead of them, just slowing them down. This will take a few times until they walk through the gate.
When starting cell grazing, be sure you don’t let the animals get to moving because of new feed. Have them move only because you move them.
If you move at the same time every day, or if you call and they come, then each day they will come easier until they start coming too fast.
It will take several days to stop this. It took many days to start it.
Be patient and good luck.
Following Day (response from the author of the original question)—
. . . . I moved the cattle yesterday, working them back from the gate several times taking over an hour for them to settle completely, in the end they walked through the gate and put their heads down to graze, not walking around and running as they have been. I will now practice this method each time, and I’m am sure the results will improve.
16 days later (response from the author of the original question)—
I was so excited I just had to share this with you, since I first contacted you about my problems with my cattle running to my bike and vehicles that even went within ear shot of them. I can’t believe the difference. (that was the 26th October.) I took the photos today (11th November) when I moved them, you will notice that they are standing back from the gate when they started to come, most kept grazing in the background, and I had to gather up the last hundred or so. I was beginning to think that they would never slow down but it’s happening. IT’S HAPPENING!
Many thanks for helping me with the cattle and easing the stress for my cattle, myself and now maybe I won’t drive my husband crazy anymore, he was very upset when my cattle used to chase him up the laneways bellowing at him. . . .
Four Months later (response from the author of the original question)—
Please tell Bud that I do so much appreciate what he told me to do on the email, my stock are now a joy to handle, and I find that on the occasion that they do get a little anxious, I just spend some time with them, work them back from the gate, for 15 or 30 minutes if neccessary, go away, come back in a few hours and they walk to the gate every time. I think that I am not stressed because there is now an answer to the problem!
The above correspondence is only one of many we have received. Since this seems to be an escalating problem, I thought it might be worthwhile to post this on our web site.
In 1958 Bud saw a grass seed advertisement showing how a dairy, using their grass mixture, and changing pastures twice a day was able to significantly increase production. Understanding the advantage of rotating the pastures, Bud said “I can do that!” Of course, we were working on big ranches in Northern California at the time. There were very few fences except for a few small holding pastures, but that didn’t keep us from bunching the stock up and moving them around the ranges to attempt to get the benefit of intensive grazing without building any fences. In those days cowboys were hired to scatter cattle. If the boss had known what we were doing we would probably have lost our job. We proved to ourselves and later, to the ranchers we worked for that bunching the stock and moving them to fresh feed was good for the grass and for the animals.
In the 1970’s, when intensive grazing was starting to be written up in the magazines, we were surprised to read that “. . . total production per acre will increase, but that individual production will be less.” Our experience has always been that individual production will also go up. After seeing a few operations using grazing cells and watching how the cattle acted we could see why individual performance would suffer. Not only were cattle standing at the gate, anticipating the move instead of being out grazing, but they were rushing the gate and leaving calves behind when the gate was opened. In areas with small, highly productive pastures this didn’t cause too much trouble. In some of the operations we have worked with, where cattle numbers are 800-1000 head and paddock sizes near 1000 acres it caused a great deal of trouble. Cows would forget about their calves and often they would never get back together. One place in Texas had over 25 calves at headquarters that they had picked up. Even if the cows and calves would eventually find each other, the coyotes in that country soon learned that the sound of the whistle (or horn) was the “breakfast bell” since the cows would all come running and leave their calves behind, unprotected.
Since putting on Stockmanship Schools we have met a lot of people who have asked us to help them with this problem. One of the major concerns we hear about is that the cattle don’t graze properly because they are waiting at the gate or rushing to the gate when they hear you coming. Also, the cattle rush through and leave calves during paddock shifts. Most people don’t recognize the problem until the cattle have developed some pretty bad habits. Can you imagine when Allan Savory and Stan Parsons were first trying to interest ranchers in pasture rotation? These are ranches that were gathered twice a year. It would take a large crew several days to get the cattle in. . . . . and they are trying to convince them to move their stock every few days? It was necessary for them to come up with a system which would cause “the cattle to move themselves” in order to get people to give it a try.
As I said before, we know that rotationally grazing pastures is best for the grass and best for the cattle, but we also know that in order to get the utmost benefits you must teach your cattle to be driven, and you must gather and drive them when you make paddock shifts, not let the knowledge of going to new feed be the primary thought in your cattle’s mind.
When we were in Canada, the outfit that owned the feedlot where we worked also had a cow herd that they intensively grazed during the summer. The pastures were laid out from the water lot in such a way that the first day they had the area closest to the water. The next day the wire was moved up to give them another piece of fresh grass and the third day the wire was removed and they had the entire three sections. Then they were moved to another strip.
For a while, when they made the 2nd day change, they would just pull the posts, unhook the wire and drag it to the new spot. The cows and calves would quietly follow the wire up to the new grass. Soon however, the cows came running when they heard the pick-up. As soon as they unhooked the electricity the cows would run over the wire, tangling up in it and making a general mess. They finally had to drive the cattle to the water-lot and shut them in so they could change the wire. When they opened the gate to let them out of the water-lot it was a general stampede.
By this time, the owners decided that something should be done about it so they asked Bud to show them how to correct this problem. Bud went with them when they changed the wire for 2-days in a row. He showed them how to properly gather the cattle so they had their calves with them when they went into the water-lot. When they were ready to let the cattle out, he quietly worked them away from the gate until they had (somewhat) settled down. When he opened the gate he went out ahead of them. They still rushed to the feed and soon got past him, but they were better on the second day.
I decided to take the camera on the 3rd day and get some video of these “crazy” cows. I was a day late! We show this video in our schools to illustrate the proper way to start and drive cows and calves. It shows cows and calves grazing all over the pasture, not paying any attention at all when we drove up. Bud & Phil gathered the cattle correctly into the water-lot, changed the wire, opened the gate and the cattle just stood there. Bud wanted to show Phil some other things while he was there so, leaving the gate open, they walked around through the cattle. After 10 or 15 minutes, since none of the cows had moved, they drove the cattle out of the water-lot. The cows walked slowly to the new feed with their calves at their side. After this, they went back to moving the wire without moving the cows. If, when they drove up the cows acted at all anxious, they would take a few minutes to “properly” drive the cows away until they settled down and then change the wire.