Not so long ago, I visited Mike Roberts, the ranch manager at Waldron Ranch in Alberta, Canada. Mike is definitely one of those outside-the-box thinkers. As a great example, he is teaching his cattle to be goats to control woody species invasion on native rangelands.
On part of the ranch, he has developed about 50 paddocks for a one-graze-a-year grazing cell on native rough fescue rangeland. Each paddock is 40-50 acres and he runs 700-800 yearlings on typically 3-day rotation.
By using strategic placement of salt & mineral feeders in brush patches, he not only delivers animal impact but is also teaching the cattle they can aggressively browse the brush as well. They are mostly dealing with western snowberry (aka buckbrush in AB & BC) and ground juniper.
The mineral feeder is placed in a patch of the buckbrush. There is loose salt in one tire and trace minerals in the other tire.
After three days of grazing, the brush around the feeder site has been trampled close to the feeder and heavily browsed moving away from the feeder. You can see the undisturbed brush at the center of the photo where the feeder was setting for contrast. Note that ample post-grazing residual of the rough fescue has been left behind.
This patch of buckbrush was over 100 yards from the mineral feeder placement, but it has also been fully browsed by cattle while in the paddock. Mike noted that while it initially takes the placement of the feeder in a brush patch to get the yearlings to eat the brush, after a few weeks in the grazing cell they begin browsing woody species much more aggressively than do cattle out on the open rangelands.
Ground juniper is another encroaching woody species common on these foothill rangelands. The cattle do not graze it as readily as they do the buckbrush, but they can deliver significant animal impact on the juniper patches as well.
When I was there, Mike was using just one feeder per herd. It is his intention to build many more feeders this winter and use 3 feeders per herd next year to be able to impact more areas in each grazing event.
Note from Kathy: My experience with cattle trained to eat weeds was that they also became very good at eating brush. Here’s a link to my experience with cattle and brush.
A fine example of turning lemons into lemonade, and a great demonstration of the power of managed grazing to affect ecological change. Undoubtedly, Mike Roberts’ neighbors think he is crazy. And that’s a great indicator of something interesting happening.
I sure like this idea. Here in southern Missouri we have a buckbrush as well. I have a portable mineral feeder that I will use to try this technique with my Corriente cows. They seem to have a tendency to browse more anyways. We dislike the buckbrush because it seems to be the favorite home to seed tick populations. Getting infested by seed ticks is an unforgettable experience.
I wonder if in areas that are brushier than others, buckbrush, multifloral rose etc, if you could mitigate the problem by getting animal impact from unrolling and feeding hay on it.
I think Steve Freeman mentioned to me one day that if you can change the soil chemistry, biology, organic matter content by using the right grazing techniques, in doing so many of the woodlands/forest plant types may no longer find that soil to be a favorable environment to grow.
Thank you for this article about cattle and brush. Most ranchers tend to dislike brush and spend millions to kill it. A more balanced approach is to see that it has considerable nutritional (as well as ecological) value and can materially augment the diet of cattle, not to mention sheep and goats. In Europe there still exist in small number the wisent, or European woods bison that live in forested land and naturally eat large amounts of browse. So it is not that much of a stretch to train domestic cattle the nutritional rewards of eating brush. However, in Texas at least, the rancher has to be careful not to go overboard – deer hunting generates far more net income per AU than cattle ranching. Deer subsist primarily on browse and their habitat and nutrition and population can be harmed by excessive consumption of browse by livestock. In all things – moderation.
Running calves with goats in the browse paddocks always gave me the best gains on the calves as they were taught to browse as well as graze.
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