In this video, Jason Crisman of JC’s Organic Farm shares a surprising development in his herd. They’re eating blackberry bushes with gusto! He attributes their new foraging to his rotational grazing, fencing them into smaller paddocks so that they become less selective graziers.
Like us, cows are creatures of habit and they eat what they’ve always eaten until there’s a reason to change. Many farmers and ranchers have reported that fencing has changed the behavior of their herds so that they eat things they normally wouldn’t have.
But simply fencing cattle in and starving them until they decide to eat something new is a recipe for disaster. So how do you help your livestock successfully make the transition? One method is to train them to eat new things. You can read more about that process by checking out all our articles at the bottom of this page. It takes just 8 hours spread over 7 days, and as long as you keep one educated animal on your place, you’ll never have to do it again.
Another way to transition your animals is to slowly change their expectations. If your herd is accustomed to being moved as soon as they’ve cleaned off the grass, even though there’s plenty of good forage left in the weeds and brush, alter your behavior slightly to alter theirs. Don’t move them immediately. Maybe move them when they’re hungry and place them in a smaller pasture than normal, encouraging them to fight a little for whatever is available. Just watch your cattle carefully to see how they’re learning, and make the move a little at a time. Remember, skinny cows don’t make money!
The benefit of this is that many of the weedy species are very nutritious and, based on the work I’ve done in this field, they’re the equivalent of alfalfa. Blackberry leaves and small stems are about 12% protein, making them a tasty alternative to mature grasses. Some pasture experts estimate that about 30% of a pasture may be weeds, so when your livestock eat them they’re getting fat on forage above and beyond what you thought you had while they improve your pasture.
What do you think? Are your cattle eating unusual things? What did you do to help them?