Sustainable Management

Written by Ron Freeman on April 19, 2014

Restoring Balance: How to get there

To reach our goals and achieve success with our ranches, we must develop and restore balance in our immediate pasture eco-system. The foundation for balance rests upon one paradigm, predator versus prey. Without it, success in achieving our goals will never be fully realized. With it, we can systematically restore not only the immediate pasture environment with all participating species, but we can also restore and strengthen the genetic makeup of our herd.

Implementing this requires that we acknowledge that for every prey, there exists a predator and vice versa. This encompasses what we can see with the naked eye what is only visible with a microscope. This does not require a complex system of identification. It only requires we acknowledge the existence of these species and their co-existence in achieving balance.

Pasture renewal by intensive grazing can be actualized by allowing natural implementation of the predator versus prey paradigm. Utilizing and embodying this ideology, goal acquisition can be realized with lasting results.

When done properly without bias you enhance and expand your own understanding of the interconnectedness of all participants.

Individual priorities must give way to philosophies and management strategies that benefit the whole. When we attach importance singularily to one specie over another, we weaken the links that must exist between all participants.

We must realize that this strategy cannot be encumbered or restricted by parameters that impede a natural evolutionary process of the predator versus prey paradigm; this must exist for the continuation of the life cycle of a balanced pasture eco-system. Living and dying and all that occurs between the two, garauntee specie survival.

Man’s intervention must be one of application through understanding, observation and experience. Our dedicated involvement must be based on a rational approach to decision making and not one of radical reactions based on emotionalism. Taking time to work through a problem and understand the underlying concept, can prove most beneficial to establishing a positive course of action that benefits all inhabitants.

Cattle are an integral part of our specific eco-systems. They play pivotal roles of equal importance as a taker of food, i.e. grass consumer, food creator and fertilizing entity. When managed correctly they keep the pasture base viable and sustainable. By removing cattle from this scenario, we guarantee that through their absence an imbalance will occur. It is a proven scientific fact that without large herbivores, to control pasture species through consumption and trampling, desertification will occur.

For the eco-system to function properly the predator versus prey paradigm must be intact. When either a predator or prey is removed from the equation the overall health of the entire eco-system is placed in jeopardy.

If a predator is removed, its prey populations will explode into unmanageable numbers. When this scenario is allowed to occur, the genetic makeup of the prey specie is altered. Without the survival of the fittest paradigm in place, through predation, the prey specie is allowed to multiply creating genetic inferiorities that would otherwise be lost in death. As this accelerates, nature reacts with disease within the specie. The specie will be decimated by this and in turn affects other species in a negative way. This downward trend depletes the effected eco-system into an unsustainable cycle. Breakdowns occur and all inhabitants suffer.

It is unrealistic to assume that our domestic herbivores require a natural re-introduced predator. However, as cattle managers we have an active role as a predator. By eliminating unproductive, low producing, or problem animals from our herds, we insure the constant and consistent genetic progress of the cowherd. Our management plans must promote animals that exist and productively multiply in our grass environments. In a basic sense, this culling attacks the core genetic inferiorities that exist within the herd much like natural predation. These inferiorities spawn symptoms that most producers routinely treat. While the treatment may stop the symptom, it does nothing to eradicate the underlying problem; these are locked in the genetic code. The only way to purge said problems from the herd is to eliminate the host. This, like physical predation, rids the herd of animals that continually demonstrate problems that impede or severely restrict a productive life.

Our management plans are not restricted to our cattle, but must also include a systematic plan to monitor and control plant and animal species as well. There are many plant species that are palatable to cattle. The producer must understand that cattle are opportunistic consumers. Cattle will eat the sweetest most easily accessible grass and plants species first, while less desirable but edible plants pass out of a vegetative, palatable state.

A large part of this management can be done by utilizing the natural grazing habits of the cattle themselves. It is our job to engineer this to the desired outcome. Constant grazing allows no rest periods and will quickly deplete our resources. But when high density, intensive grazing is imposed by the producer or manager, they will graze more uniformally on all edible species. The result will be a constant re-growth of pasture species during rest periods. The constant cycle allows the pastures to maintain themselves, creating habitat for many smaller species of animal life. This in turn creates food for the larger carnivores such as coyotes, foxes and bobcats.

It is my belief based on more than 40 years of observation and experimentation in my uncontrolled ranch environment that predatory animals can be indirectly controlled simply by implementing intensive grazing techniques and concepts. My belief is that if we can somehow control the food source of the specie, we can, in a limited way, control the specie.

To better understand this, we must understand the predatory nature of animals in our environment. Most, if not all predatory animals, are opportunistic killers. Their survival depends on their ability to hunt successfully without bodily harm in their natural environment. Access to their natural prey, in sustainable numbers, is a prerequisite. But, if their natural prey is depleted because of loss of habitat, they may prey on whatever is close at hand. In most cases this happens to be domestic livestock. Before you condemn the predator for natural behavior, ask yourself why the habitat is depleted. In most instances, the affected ecosystem has been overgrazed or removed entirely; the predator is left with no other choices but to prey on domestic livestock.

For decades, coyotes and foxes were hunted and killed with reckless abandon. Their environments were depleted of their natural prey due to habitat loss. We have proven on our ranch, restoration of habitat creates a natural return of their prey specie. By simply introducing intensive grazing techniques into pasture management, a balance can be re-established. It should be noted that this introduction involves time tested concepts and philosophies that have worked well in a variety if climactic and geographical environments.

I am not advocating any form of predator or prey re-introduction. This is a natural process of allowing substantial re-growth to occur through a graze and rest scenario. As the pasture base strengthens and regenerates itself, species will return in manageable numbers. We have seen this demonstrated on our own ranch time and again. The closer we come to a naturally re-created eco-system the more functional it becomes for all inhabitants. As our plant species multiply so to do the species that require them for a habitat and source of sustainable food supply.

As our efforts have intensified to understand our pasture eco-system and restore it to sustainable levels, specie interaction and involvement have risen dramatically.

Through pasture rejuvenation with cattle, we have successfully re-created the environment that provides habitat for the normal population of prey and predators to establish acceptable levels.

This is not the end of the story, but a continuing saga of maintaining balance and order through restrained intervention.

The ability to exercise proper application techniques is directly related to the lessons we learn through experience and observation. Our ability to absorb information and successfully recreate it in our management plans will be measured by an increase in the productivity of our pastures and the species that naturally inhabit them.

Where to begin:

This type of grazing management is not learned overnight or by simply reading about it. Participation in seminars can be a starting point from which to begin acquiring the necessary knowledge to be successful. But the best tool is talking with and spending time with someone who has spent several years in setting up, maintaining and running a successful grazing operation. Learning from someone who has the experience of doing it will allow you to overcome problem areas that you would otherwise experience alone, without sufficient knowledge for a desirable outcome. An open mind is your greatest asset.

There is no substitute for experience and no better guide than common sense. There are no shortcuts to acquiring the necessary knowledge that one needs to manage a successful grazing operation.

This type of managed grazing does require dedication on the part of the producer, to step away from conventional ways of thinking and begin to question past management philosophies and strategies. One must immerse oneself in understanding the natural process of a grazing animal and how that process benefits the pasture eco-system.

As your knowledge increases, your ability to plan and make informed decisions regarding your operation will greatly increase your productivity and sustained profitability.


– By Ron Freeman

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