Why I disagree with Temple Grandin on reteaching predator instincts in cattle

Temple Grandin recently generated some controversy over her comments that ranchers need to reteach their herds to have better protective instincts against predators. Here’s why I believe “re-wilding” cattle is a bad idea and docility should be a top priority for today’s cattle producers.

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian ViewThis one ought to get your blood pressure up. Once again, Amanda shoots all around the bulls-eye but misses the V ring.

It is obvious that she has never been told about the role of pack hunting predators in inducing “herd effect” in ungulates — the key factor and what we are trying to replicate with planned grazing.

A Handbook for Ranch ManagersHowever, to Amanda’s credit, in today’s world of high cattle prices, it is way too expensive to allow Mother Nature (aka the fickle bitch) to have her way completely.

So, we have to replicate the effect of natural predators on domestic livestock and, therefore, the land. Imagine throwing a bale of hay into the midst of 200 hungry cows. Envision how they would behave–that is what we are trying to replicate.

Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference ManualI believe that behavior can be induced by a man on horseback that understands low stress methods. Add good guard dogs, mules and llamas and it is pretty much problem solved.

None of this means that I ever pass up an opportunity to shoot a livestock predator or rattlesnake (especially around the house and barn). — jtl

by in BEEF Daily

The Essence of Liberty: Volume I: Liberty and History: The Rise and Fall of the Noble Experiment with Constitutionally Limited Government (Liberty and ... Limited Government) (Volume 1)  The Essence of Liberty: Volume II: The Economics of Liberty (Volume 2) The Essence of Liberty: Volume III: A Universal Philosophy of Political Economy (Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic) (Volume 3) Last night, my family was sitting around the dinner table at my parents’ house when we heard cattle mooing and rustling around in the calving pasture. It was enough of a ruckus that three of us hopped on four-wheelers to check what   Combat Shooter's HandbookReconnaissance Marine MCI 03.32f: Marine Corps InstituteThe Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other Misfitswas going on. With spotlights, we could see in the dark that many of the calves had blown through the fence, and the mama cows were running along the fence line trying to get to their babies. The group was clearly spooked by something, and as we maneuvered the calves back to where they belonged, we could only guess it was a coyote or mountain lion that had startled our normally very quiet cow herd.

Living alongside the James River in eastern South Dakota, we have predators that follow the river banks in search of prey. Last summer, we lost two calves to what we suspect was a mountain lion, and this calving season, we’ve already lost one to a coyote. Our area doesn’t have the additional threat of wolves, but our recent experiences gave us additional insight into the serious challenges many ranchers face with regard to predators.

Noted animal behaviorist Temple Grandin of Colorado State University recently authored an article for BEEF in which she suggested that ranchers might benefit from instilling in their herds better protective instincts against predators. She offered four steps for cattle ranchers to better coexist with predators. These included:

• All dead carcasses and sick, weak animals must be immediately removed. (But, what about afterbirth enticing predators? How about the young calves hidden and left by their mothers while they graze? These temptations keep predators nearby.)

•Indiscriminant killing of wolves or coyotes is a bad idea. The best approach is to remove individual problem animals or a male and female pair that are caught in the act of killing cattle or sheep. (Good luck catching the predator in action! Usually, the damage is done and the predator long gone before the incident is discovered.)

• Cattle need to learn to herd and flock together and “stand their ground” when confronted by wolves or coyotes. Use Bud Williams’ low-stress methods to trigger the natural bunching instinct. (Even docile cattle don’t lose the bunching instinct, but a confronted or cornered cow is a dangerous one — not just for predators, but for people, too.)

• Because wolves and coyotes will usually avoid areas where people are present, riding the range is effective deterrent. (For many, riding every pasture on a daily basis isn’t practical or feasible. What about the remote locations cattle often graze?)

In her article entitled, “Experts say ranching done right improves the environment and wildlife habitat,” Grandin writes about the need to “re-wild” cattle and “rekindle” the herd instinct to bunch together and stand their ground.

I can appreciate what she is saying and agree that soft bunching while grazing can be a learned behavior through some animal handling techniques. However, the practicality of enhancing a brood cow’s protective instincts — whether through genetic selection or learned behavior — wouldn’t just keep predators away, but ranchers, too. And, that could spell trouble, particularly when the average age of the U.S. rancher is 58. Frankly, as folks age, they generally aren’t as nimble, which could make it harder to escape an aggressive cow!

As a purebred Limousin breeder, I’m often asked about the disposition of our cattle. In the early years of Limousin genetics in the U.S., the breed developed a notorious reputation for having wild and high-headed bloodlines. That’s why, in 1991, the breed’s leaders developed a temperament-scoring system, which the Beef Improvement Federation later adopted. The breed then developed the industry’s first docility (DOC) expected progeny difference (EPD), which Limousin breeders have used diligently over the years to select and cull problem animals.

In our operation, my dad has always placed an emphasis on docility. With three daughters as his main chore help, he wasn’t going to risk the safety of his “little girls” when docility could be managed through selection. We use the disposition EPD extensively for culling cranky cattle and when buying new genetics to add to the herd. In fact, we recently purchased a new herd sire this spring that boasts a 34 DOC EPD, which ranks in the top 5% of the breed. We felt his gentle attitude was worth the extra dollars paid and we look forward to him transmitting that to gentle daughters in the upcoming years.

This is a photo of my dad weighing and tagging a calf while a gentle mother watches. — Amanda Radke

From our experience, selecting for disposition has been a smart move. We joke now that calving season is almost “boring,” as we hardly ever have to worry about a cow being territorial after calving. We can tag and weigh nearly all our calves on the ground by simply driving up to the pair with a four-wheeler, catching the calf by hand, and quickly doing what we need to do while the cow watches. Our fear of getting hurt is minimal, and we want to keep it that way.

I tell you about my family’s experience in selecting for docility not to promote our cattle or the breed, but because I don’t agree with Grandin’s statement that we should “re-wild” our cattle. A more protective cow is a meaner cow. I would never go back to the days of having aggressive and wild cattle just so they can be better at protecting their calves from predators. It’s not practical; it’s not safe; and, at the end of the day, it doesn’t make for a higher-quality beef product.

Luckily, we didn’t lose any calves to the passing predator last night, and I realize I don’t have all of the answers for how cattle and predators can co-exist. However, it’s high time we have that conversation and offer real solutions for the ranchers who lose dozens of calves each year to wolves, coyotes and mountain lions.

What do you think about Grandin’s suggestion to reteach cattle predator instincts? How do you manage your problems with predators? How important is docility to you in your operation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

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BookCoverImageMurray N. Rothbard was the father of what some call Radical Libertarianism or Anarcho-Capitalism which Hans-Hermann Hoppe described as “Rothbard’s unique contribution to the rediscovery of property and property rights as the common foundation of both economics and political philosophy, and the systematic reconstruction and conceptual integration of modern, marginalist economics and natural-law political philosophy into a unified moral science: libertarianism.”

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About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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2 Responses to Why I disagree with Temple Grandin on reteaching predator instincts in cattle

  1. Rich says:

    Amanda’s clearly a nice girl but she is a lightweight who has a difficult job coming up with as many interesting columns as required of her. Luckily for her, she, like virtually all other ag journalists and associations, is able to rely on the constant (if frequently lame and repetitive) outputs of extension and research faculty at all this country’s Land Grant colleges for fodder. Pick up any weekly farm-and-ranch paper and count the articles either written by or quoting some ‘expert’ whose livelihood depends on federal financing through the USDA-Land Grant complex. For that matter, look at any ag association’s convention or conference schedule and see how many speakers are beholden to the USDA for their sustenance. The result of this subsidized research and knowledge distributiion has long been perpetuation of conventional views on agricultural economics, range management, animal science, and most other disciplines. The bold thinkers within the complex – such as Temple Grandin – are rare and usually marginalized. Amanda, probably like her family and most of BEEF’s readers, is a conventional thinker…which is what she is being paid to be.

    Liked by 1 person

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