Sunday, March 3, 2024
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Steers That Eat Rabbits

Here’s a little-known fact: On Pasture exists because of this picture:


If I’d never met Fred Provenza, and if he’d never invited me to audit his “Plant Herbivore Interaction” course at Utah State University, you would not be enjoying the 2,300 articles in On Pasture’s library.

Yes, this is a steer eating a rabbit. Fred showed the class this picture just before I had to leave for a week of travel for my job with the Bureau of Land Management. For the whole week I wondered, “How did that steer catch that rabbit?” And as I drove from Grand Junction, Colorado back to Logan, Utah I looked at the scattered cattle grazing on the range in a whole new light. OMG! If they got hungry enough would they chase down little kids? (I have a pretty wild imagination.) So when I got back to USU, I headed straight to Fred’s office for answers to my questions.

This steer was part of a trial to see the effects of grazing on phosphorous deficient soils. The herd decided to solve the problem by eating dead rabbits found in the pasture for the phosphorous in their bones.

Of course! We’ve all seen animals nibble on bones and a variety of strange things, and we’ve made the connection that they’re eating to solve a problem. But I hadn’t realized it could go quite so far. I was fascinated and I wondered, “What else can we do with this?”

Turns out, you can teach cows to eat weeds, and that was my next step. And after touring the U.S. and Canada teaching cows, sheep, bison and goats and presenting at conferences and workshops, I realized there was all kinds of helpful information that wasn’t getting out to the farmers and ranchers who really needed it. And so On Pasture was born.

Why am I telling you this? Learning about how animals choose what to eat and where to live, and that it doesn’t work the way we thought it did, has changed my life and I think it can change your life too. So check out this week’s article collection and then consider how a few hours spent teaching your livestock to eat weeds could make your life easier and more profitable.

Thanks for reading!


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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


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