Adjusting Assumptions When Training Livestock to Eat Weeds

Sometimes our trainees are doing just what they’re supposed to.  It’s our assumptions that make us think things aren’t going quite right.  I'm reminded of this every year when I get calls form farmers and ranchers who are in the process of teaching their cattle or sheep to eat a new food.  Everyone, including me, has an idea in their heads that after going through the training process, when we put out the tubs with weeds in them, the cows will eat everything in the tub.  But that never happens, not because the trainees aren't learning, but because they're doing exactly what an animal does when it learns.  They try just a bit, wait to see what the internal feedback mechanism says about the new food, and THEN decide to eat more. Here's an example:  Chuck Talbott, the Ag Agent for Putnam County, West Virginia, wrote me in early August of 2011 about a training demonstration he put on.  He’d gone through the whole training process with 13 replacement heifers.  During the training the heifers would eat their snack and then head back to pasture to eat things he didn’t expect them to eat like lambsquarters, pre-bloom curly and smooth dock, and spiny pig weed.  The pig weed was actually the target weed for this demonstration. Everything was going well until the day he was to introduce the weeds.Since this was a demonstration, Chuck invi

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