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Fencing - Constraining the herd

 
Garry Hoddinott
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Hello Allan - your presence here is very welcome.

I'm sure you have addressed my concern - sorry to be taking you back to basics.

1. I read your note that herdsman can do the constraining job better than fences, but since they are a bit thin on the ground in Australia, what are your key suggestions for herd constraint in initial implementation of holistic management. Electric fencing (electro-net or similar)? Are there any electronic noise makers that cattle are particularly sensitive to - I was thinking along the lines of recorded wolf howls etc?

2. Following initial usage I was thinking of using some kind of FEDGES - Food Hedge. Have you any experience with these? Do you have any suggestions for species / guild or mix of species that would make a useful FEDGE for cattle?

3. I have read that Joel Salatin uses layer hens to follow cattle in rotation. Does your research lend support to this?

I have more questions .... but i don't want to be a pain

Garry Hoddinott, Grafton NSW Aust.
 
Allan Savory
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Gary thanks for welcoming me – took on more than I realized in agreeing to do this for three days!! But am enjoying it because I so like the enquiring and mostly open minds of permies as you seem to call yourselves.

Re herding vs fencing – these are simply decisions to be made in the initial or first part of managing holistically (please, as I am asking others to do, read other posts so I do not have to keep repeating what is involved in managing holistically). And this initial decision making also applies to the type of fencing – permanent with how many strands, structure, electric permanent or portable and so on. And it is where we at our Dimbangombe learning site ranch made the decision to use herding because fencing in any form was not in context. Too many elephant, buffalo, sable, kudu, giraffe, zebra, lions, etc etc.

I am increasingly trying to get commercial ranchers in the US, Australia or anywhere to begin seriously relooking at fencing vs herding. Almost all immediately say they cannot because of labour costs – that, despite them saying they are managing holistically, tells me they are still in reductionist mindset. I say this because what we have worked out at Dimbangombe is proving so encouraging due entirely to herding. We are achieving a rate of reversal of land degradation I have not experienced anywhere since the first advanced project we ran forty years ago – where we were pushing the envelope to try to see if we could cause failure with holistic planned grazing – which we were unable to do. The reason is in hindsight now obvious to me. Over-resting the land is the single greatest thing leading to desertification in any country – this point I tried to make in my TED talk showing the terrible desertification in a US National Park and on research sites. And using fencing on very large land units we have struggled, and continue to struggle, to overcome the high level of partial rest (which has almost the same effect on the land as total rest as I often illustrate in talks using US experimental plots that demonstrate this). With herding we overcome the partial rest easily and constantly – day and night the entire management herd (500 cattle with some goats and sheep) is always on an area of about an acre or less no matter where we have them. This in turn is leading to much faster improvement in the land, water retention, wildlife habitat (for most species but we are now having to preserve some bare ground for some species), and of course the growth of all plants – grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees. We have cultural and predator problems with using dogs and horses that Australians and others do not have to contend with at all. So I believe when others begin to look at the possibilities seriously – taking into account the full complexity, social, environmental and economic - and improve on what we are doing using dogs and horses they will be surprised. My son is in Australia and you might want to keep in touch with me on this.

Using fedges – I have no experience and only know of our past efforts to use vegetative fences in the form of prickly pear, aloes or sisal. But again simply a matter of seeing if those are in a holistic context – and if so use them.

I am aware of Joel’s work on his farm and his enlightened use of chickens and pigs and like it. We are using chickens on Dimbangombe – we keep them in mobile homes where they can roost or lay and be moved at night when the predator friendly overnight kraals move. From dawn to dusk they fend for themselves minimizing fly larvae in the dung and picking parasites off animals held back for any reason as the management herd leaves for their day working to improve the land and water. We did try pigs but had to give up because we could not use dogs. In the thick bush and long grass pigs hung back from the main herd undetected by herders and we were feeding leopards well. Manuel Casas in Mexico had a great management herd – cattle, horses, sheep, goats and pigs all herded in forest with excellent results. Only problem I recall him experiencing was the need to remove the pigs while goats were kidding or sheep lambing. We are using dogs in a limited way – to alert herders at night when lions approach - but even there we are experiencing heavy casualties from leopards and lions, but I think we have a solution to that now.
 
Garry Hoddinott
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Allan, thank you so much for your reply. HERDING ... hmmm OK, if you say it, I'll do it. Hitherto I have not been a dog person, but this cause is certainly worthy of such a small attitudinal change and other's I know and trust very much value their dogs.

Yes, farm dogs have been the best value farm workers in Australia for EVER. My thinking is to mark the daily constrain area with 4 coloured posts. 4 dogs trained to patrol their "side" Perhaps siting 2 small shade areas at opposing diagonal corners would allow the 2 dogs company and under which they can rest during the day.

On balance you have to say that because there are no predators for cattle or sheep in herds in Aust. we have it easy. If the dogs can be trained to run these invisible fences it is a hell of a good idea.

Not sure about night time, maybe a solar battery lantern on each post? Maybe we are able to rest the dogs at near the homestead if the cattle do not move much.

Perhaps, if the CATTLE are trained by the dogs, they will stick to the marked areas minimising supervision.

Your thinking is certainly out of the box, its enlightening.

Garry

 
Allan Savory
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Garry pleased to see your interest in challenging the fencing only paradigm. Suggest you do not try to re-invent the wheel by going ahead with anything before thoroughly exploring all we have learned and are doing so far with herding, and with overnight holding of livestock. Best way perhaps email me direct and I will put you in touch. Also increasingly we will have this on the new website being developed to serve global learning hubs mentioned in other posts - where people can easily communicate globally between hubs.
In brief we herd to "virtual" paddocks that are large for ease of planning - then within those herd the animals daily but for no more than about 3 days in the same place within a "paddock". And they are returned to an overnight kraal that is very portable and moves about every week. And when the time they are to be in any virtual paddock is over they are moved to the next and so on. In this way we are planning long recovery periods with few paddocks, but also achieving short periods of grazing and trampling. And of course in the planning done twice a year we are integrating the livestock with the wildlife needs, cropping areas and other land uses. Anyway as I say you do not need to start from scratch as we did, nor to repeat the mistakes we made. I do not know how all this could be done with dogs alone, but I do believe man and dog, or man, horse and dogs will be far superior to what we are doing with herders alone.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Gary, if you are not a dog person, then inquire about training methods first, so that you can avoid mistakes! Positive reinforcement methods are best, and you must know clearly how to punish without traumatizing. When using friendly method, which is best of course, some people refuse to punish and then do it when they are forced, and so do it wrong and create some fear.

The problem with dogs is also when they are no more used to be around with cattle since pup.
Actually, here, dogs are the only predator I know of...................

I feel that herding is best for keeping animals, when you have a "normal" number of cattle as a "real" farmer.
I guess fencing is best when you have no time to herd for a few unprofessional animals!
 
Garry Hoddinott
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Thanks Xisca

One benefit of knowing you don't know is the requirement to learn. If dogs can be trained to "enforce" an invisible fence it would completely revolutionise paddock shift or holistic management (which by the way I have not studied so it falls into the same category!)

I will follow this up with the most expert cattle dog people I can find.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Some practical persons know how to do and do not know HOW they do it, so they are not always good in transmitting.
You can mix this help with the help from people knowing clicker training.
This method can also help to train cattle animal.
You can teach to LIKE going into a van or going inside anything suitable.

You must also learn about breeds.
They are not all good at everything, because of their selection to different cattle or herd movement.

The finish dog meant for reindeer for example, is good for making an animal go back to the herd when wanting to change way.
But they are not at ease with maintaining a herd that does not move. They were made for accompanying big and looooong herds that were moving.
they are good for animals that react to barking.

some breeds will keep the animal by biting the hind legs, like the Pyrenees shepard.

The australian cattle dog is very valued...
 
Dave Mattinson
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G'day Garry,

I know of a guy up near Nymboida who raises working dogs. Nice bloke and doing some cell grazing on his property too. I can PM you his number if you like.

Here is a podcast on natural herding that Allan was referring to.
http://agroinnovations.com/podcast/2011/01/31/episode-118-cowherd-management/
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