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Socialize With Cows to Promote Soil Fertility

By   /  September 8, 2014  /  Comments Off on Socialize With Cows to Promote Soil Fertility

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When I studied Agronomy in Brazil, my grazing mentors recommended that farmers that walked in the paddock or grazing strips for a few minutes previous to movingvthe cows to a fresh pasture, might stimulate soil fertility. If you are wondering how this is possible, read on and I’ll try to explain.

Here's an example of what you might see after socializing with your cattle.

Here’s an example of what you might see after socializing with your cattle.

Before moving their animals, Brazilian farmers are advised to take time to walk observing their pastures, manure distribution, trampling and height of residual pasture. While they circulate, crisscrossing slowly among them, they also count and check cow’s health. Farmers know that cows want to be moved and when cows see the farmer, they immediately associate him/her with fresh pastures. However, by not moving them right away, cows become uneasy, with a mix of euphoria and stress. They want the fresh and luscious next strip of grass as soon as possible but the patient walk of the farmer among them seems endless. All this excitement causes them to move around. Impatiently, they walk, manure and urinate.

Cows are amazing herbivorous ruminants that convert solar energy stored in forages into milk or meat and have evolved by grazing and moving into new areas seeking fresh pastures. Grazed pastures were then left behind and had adequate time to regrow before the next grazing. In addition, predators co-evolved with ruminants keeping them in check. In the old times, predators played a great role by keeping herds productive and healthy by culling the weakest and leaving the fittest individuals. Predators stimulated animals to leave their urine and manure on the pastures they grazed and trampled.

Sound familiar?

Here is where the rationale of this simple management technique resides: Before strolling to the milk parlor, in the case of dairy, or moving to a new pasture, in the case of beef or dry cows, animals are stimulated to leave an extra shot of fertility on previously grazed pastures. One of the advantages of this is that they leave the grazed pasture with partially empty rumens. This simple measure can provide cleaner milking facilities, reducing labor, odors and flies. And, if they are moved to the next strip of pasture, they will not manure the fresh pastures right away, increasing forage intake and minimizing losses.

I can try to explain this cow’s behavior by associating it to a similar one, observed by Allan Savory while working as a Biologist and Park Ranger in Zimbabwe. Savory learned that when cows –or, in his case, wilderbeast, another ruminant – were stalked by predators, they flock together and walk around in circles, stomping their hooves in an intimidatory attitude. Their stress levels makes them urinate and manure. This is a normal prey instinct that increases protection of the herd and does wonders for soil fertility.

A little socializing with your dairy cows could save you the expense of buying this robotic pooper scooper.

A little socializing with your dairy cows could save you the expense of buying this robotic pooper scooper.

Moreover, animals can’t stay for too long in a given area or they will attract predators. Then, they have to graze and move! No time to appreciate beautiful mountains, valleys and rivers. It is a nourishing graze and go cycle! But most farms don’t have predators anymore because humanity has achieved the highest extinction rate in planet’s history. For that reason, if you are a farmer and want to boost soil fertility, please take a moment to socialize with your cows!

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About the author

Juan comes from a two-generation pasture-based family farm in Uruguay. He obtained his BS in Agronomy in Brazil, his MS in Plant and Soil Science with Bill Murphy and his Ph.D. in Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. He has experienced interdisciplinary research in grazing management, agroecology, ecosystems goods and services, land use change, conservation policy, green markets, and ecological economics. His work addresses environmental, social and productive aspects of grazing farms, with emphasis on dairy management, ecosystems conservation and sustainable livelihoods in Vermont and New England. In his study, grasslands play a key role because they are complex ecosystems that sustain a vast array of functions and processes delivering benefits for supporting healthy environments and communities.

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