…it’s important to ride through cattle a lot, without making them do anything. “This puts them at ease, and they won’t automatically take off when they see someone on horseback,” he says. It’s important that the cattle are used to your presence and comfortable with it.
With the correct techniques and gentle persuasion, cattle can rotationally graze large pastures, even rangeland, without using fences or other borders.
It’s possible to rotationally graze cattle on large pastures or rangeland without using electric fence and without herders, says Bob Kinford. Billing himself as “the only person teaching how to instill herd instinct in cattle,” Kinford says low-stress stockmanship is the key.
The Van Horn, Texas, rancher describes himself as “a low-stress stockman teaching stockmanship to those who handle cattle on horseback or want to practice holistic grazing without extra fencing.” It’s all about instilling herd instinct in the cattle and utilizing it to keep them bunched up — without fences or herders.
“This is what people used to do with livestock; we used to herd them,” Kinford says. “But we’ve gone away from this type of grazing management toward relying onfences to keep animals where we want them. The result is that fenceless stockmanship is foreign to many ranchers.”
Kinford says that, as a kid, he pondered why goats and sheep exhibited a herd mentality, but cows would scatter. He says it took him several decades of experimenting to discover that cattle’s natural instinct is to act as a herd, but it only happens when human-induced stress is absent.
“If cattle are on range and semi-wild, they scatter when they see riders, and they’re hard to gather. They scatter as a defense tactic, to get away, because they know they are captive when they are all together. If you remove that stress from cattle, however, they won’t try to scatter,” he explains.
Kinford takes his cues for natural cattle movement from watching how cattle behave around each other. “You’ll see the boss cow walk by another animal; if she puts her head down, the other cow will speed up to get out of her way,” he says. He adds that when a bull herds his cows, the cows respond to his leadership. “All a bull has to do is make a threatening gesture, and the cows will get back into the herd and stay there.”
When relocating cattle, he gets the herd moving slowly across the landscape, and then moves ahead of them to slow them down. The cattle will start dropping their heads and graze, but only to take a bite or two while maintaining their movement. This, he says, is similar to how big herds graze on the African plains — staying together and grazing slowly across the land.
Using minimal pressure
He says cattle are much more amenable to doing what humans desire, if it’s not accompanied by excessive pressure. “You get a lot farther by just giving a cow a suggestion, then walking off and leaving her. When you’re moving cattle and starting them up, don’t try to do it quickly; it’s better to ease them into it,” Kinford says.
To illustrate his point, he asks his seminar attendees to imagine themselves in a traffic jam. “You sit there, bored and frustrated, and when everyone starts to move a little in front of you, the stress is relieved. But if there are people honking behind you, your stress level rises, and you generally look for a way out, while the stress just keeps building,” he explains.
It’s the same with cattle,” he says. “If cattle are scattered out, rather than picking them all up and moving them, I go around them quietly. To any that are lying down, I just get close enough that they’ll get up. I’ll then leave them alone and let them stretch, or I’ll walk by them to where they start moving a few steps, and have them going the same direction as the other cows. If I do this early in the morning when they’re starting to get up and go to water, they’ll decide to go to water now.” You’ve given them that suggestion, he says.
“Then you can just ride off and leave them. The cow we nudged, then goes down to join the other cows and gets water.”
If you can make a cow think it’s her idea to do something, you can do anything with cattle. The key is to do it at the cow’s speed.
“Once you get the cattle acting as a herd, all you have to do is get to the front and slow them down to stop them where you want them. If you have pairs, ride through them a bit and encourage them to stay mothered up,” Kinford says.
He stresses that it’s important to ride through cattle a lot, without making them do anything. “This puts them at ease, and they won’t automatically take off when they see someone on horseback,” he says. It’s important that the cattle are used to your presence and comfortable with it.
“Then, when you start them, you move to the front and go against them to turn the front of the herd, whichever direction you want them to go. They’ll just line out and go,” he says.
Kinford reports that he’s handled alone up to 1,200 steers and 600 cow-calf pairs. “You just need enough patience to teach yourself to be able to trust the cattle,” he explains.
He says one common mistake is when herders attempt to keep all the cattle in a tight bunch as they move, with any stragglers immediately chased up to the herd. But Kinford says that stresses the slow cattle. “But if you don’t follow them, after a few times, they’ll come on their own,” he says.
When he moves cattle by himself, Kinford says there may be a small group toward the back of the herd that stop to graze. “They may be 100 yards away from the herd, and I’ll trot back there. One will look up and see me coming, and they’ll start running, playing and racing to see which of them can catch up with the herd the fastest. I don’t have to do anything at all to move them,” he says.
In fact, Kinford says he has a blue heeler dog that sometimes handles the chore. “She’ll trot back partway and the cows will come join the herd; then she’ll come back so proud of herself as if to say, ‘See what I did, Boss!’ It’s almost like remote control,” Kinford says.
A Handbook for Ranch Managers. In keeping with the “holistic” idea that the land, the livestock, the people and the money should be viewed as a single integrated whole: Part I deals with the management of the natural resources. Part II covers livestock production and Part III deals with the people and the money. Not only would this book make an excellent basic text for a university program in Ranch Management, no professional ranch manager’s reference bookshelf should be without it. It is a comprehensive reference manual for managing the working ranch. The information in the appendices and extensive bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.
You might be interested in this books supplement: Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference Manual.