The Pleasures of Herbivores

I am dedicated to improving my soil. I have a fair amount of caliche and two to four feet of Blackland Prairie clay sitting atop about 400 feet of limestone. Early on I decided to introduce good grasses and herbivores to break up the clay, enrich the caliche and thereby develop verdant pastures teeming with microorganisms, dragonflies, butterflies and birds.

This plan is working out. Plus herbivores are fun to have around. My neighbor was surprised one day seeing my cow jumping and running and kicking up her heels. She said she always thought cows were slow, sedentary creatures. Today I arrived with a new round-bale of hay and the cow began running circles around the truck, diving between gates and kicking up her heels; all of which would have been more entertaining if I had not been negotiating a 1000 pounds of hay through the gates.

Perhaps my cow is so agile and active because of her small size. She is a Dexter and weighs only about 500 pounds while a ‘normal’ cow weighs in at about 1300. Or perhaps, she is just naturally high-spirited and leads a happy life here with me–spoiled rotten really. In any case her calf stood and stared at her antics, I didn’t actually see any eye-rolling but the calf made me think of a human teenager embarrassed by a parent. Her eyebrows definitely lifted.

Dexter Cow.

Controlling herbivores is important: they can destroy good land as we can see in the deserts of Pakistan or the bare Greek hillsides. One control I use is to rotate my sheep and cow between three small pastures. First, the grasses need to regenerate after they have been ‘mowed’. Second, worm larvae deposited in the animal manures, hatches and crawls up grass to be eaten, thereby gaining entrance to the digestive systems of stock. The result is debilitation of the grazing animal. Fortunately the life cycle of the these digestive track worms is 21 days, so if the pasture is not used for 21 days, the worms die. Rotation has worked for me and I have never had to treat an animal for worms.

I have about six feet of fencing between my back and middle pastures that is not entirely secure. My Great Pyrenees is able to dig a hole under this section of fence and both of my dogs can then move from pasture to pasture. We had a coyote eying the lambs for breakfast last weekend so the dogs were able to guard the entire perimeter without my having to go out and open gates. But this convenience has ended.

Almost unbelievably, my sheep seem to have commando skills and can drop to the ground and crawl under the same hole in the fence used by the dogs. Yesterday, trying for a third time to stop this ‘security’ breach of my pasture rotation plans, I stacked logs on one side of the fence. The Pyr walked back and forth on his side of the fence sizing up possibilities for his next hole. The sheep stood close by watching him with absolute approval. The cow hates the sheep to be anywhere she cannot go and she bellows constantly when they shimmy under the fence. As the dog was investigating flaws in my barricade, she walked up to him, put her nose gently under his stomach raised him in the air and deposited him five feet away. Did I mention herbivores were fun?

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