AoR 47: Derek Bailey, The Holy Grail of Grazing--Livestock Distribution Principles and Practices

It is cliche but true that most range grazing problems are animal distribution problems. And no one's name is more closely tied to distribution than Derek Bailey. Dr. Bailey and Tip discuss frontiers in understanding and manipulating livestock distribution to conserve rangeland health. The conversation includes animal selection, attractant placement, herding, and technologies for range livestock management. 

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>> Welcome to the Art of Range. A podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at artofrange.com.

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My guest today on the Art of Range is Dr. Derek Bailey. He's at New Mexico State University, formerly at Montana State. And Dr. Bailey has been at the forefront of research on livestock distribution for as long as I can remember, which is a little bit more than it was a while ago. Derek, welcome to the show.

>> Thanks, Tip. I appreciate the opportunity to visit with everyone.

>> And we've been doing podcast episodes for not quite two years now. And I don't think we've ever dedicated one just to livestock distribution, even though that kind of is involved in everything else. And a lot of people would still say that distribution is the holy grail of grazing management. And getting animals to go where food is and preventing them from damaging the most preferred plants by getting them to go somewhere else is a pretty big deal. And if it works well, it can cover over a lot of other problems. You've spent, what I would say has been a very fruitful career, trying to better understand the different factors influencing livestock distribution, and how to manipulate those factors toward healthy plant communities and more viable livestock operations. How did you come to be interested in studying range science and specifically these particular aspects of range science?

>> Tip, that question leads me back to my background. I grew up on a ranch in South Central Colorado, in little town La Veta, and our ranches -- our ranch land was up in the mountains and so I was always unhappy when the cows steeped the bottom and then used the rest of the grass on a range and grazed the bottom. Maybe kind of the right [inaudible] isn't bad. I just didn't like it. So then when I got -- I took range classes and got a master's and bachelor's in animal science and went to -- got my PhD in range science. My advisor, Dr. Larry Rittenhouse was real interested in grazing behavior. And so I actually started looking at it then and trying to understand the real basics behind grazing distribution. And then after I graduated, I worked for ranchers as a private consultant, that were having issues with the BOM and the Forest Service. And most of those issues were associated with grazing distribution, rather than just stocking. Right? Usually there's enough grass, just the cattle were grazing in the wrong places and that caused a lot of issues, and water. Potential litigation, conflict between agencies and ranchers. And so that's why when I finished, I really set my mind to it, to see if we could figure out some things and resolve those issues.

>> Yeah, I like that history. I was scrambling a bit trying to figure out how we cover such a big topic. These are things that whole books are written about, and we want to hit some highlights over the course of, you know, 45 minutes to an hour. So I think there's kind of four big ideas that'd be worth talking about, and I think we can cover enough on each one of those to make it useful. I guess in my mind, I would organize livestock distribution strategies into possibly at least four categories, animal selection, using attractants, like supplement or water to move animals around, herding and various kinds of technology that can be used to manipulate livestock distribution. But let's start with animal selection because I think it's probably the least known and has -- you've done a lot of, you know, fairly recent research on animal selection. The other stuff I think there's also some good -- current research on but this may be a little bit more unique. Fred Provenza likes to say that nature fills voids with individuals not averages. And that there's all kinds of things that influence individual animal behavior, things like breed, genetics, parental training, all kinds of stuff. And in a -- you know, in an extensive and variable, natural environment, it's a lot more sustainable to try to modify the animal to fit the environment, than it is to try to change the environment so that it matches the animal. What -- if you were going to try to summarize what you've learned about the genetics of animal grazing behavior over the last 30 years, and how genetic selection can be used in range management, where would you start?

>> I don't know. There's a -- I'd start with a line I always tell my students in my classes is that not all cattle are created equal, and that there are some -- and in my experiences, there's always some animals that are much more willing to climb and travel far from water than others, and we can take advantage of that two ways. One is we can try to train them and change the environment. And that's for -- Fred Provenza always -- I mean, it's his area and he's done some great stuff but the other part is the genetics. You know, it's -- everything is a mix of nature and nurture and nature isn't a strong thing. And ideally, we've made maybe even less expensive -- If we could select -- if we could figure out a way to select for livestock, genetically, maybe cheaper than trying to train animals. Because there -- we've done research. We've been tracking cattle since 1998 with GPS collars and before that we did quite a bit of work with just going out on horseback and visually observing categories and patterns. And you know, we really documented some huge differences in the way cattle respond. And we found that some of them is genetically implemented. Our guess is it may be that the potential heritability -- and it's just a guess, is near a level of weaning weight. And that'd be like about 30% heritable, so there is some real potential. We've also found that grazing distribution is associated with some genetic markers. And today that most genetic markers are identified with -- by the single nucleotide polymorphism, SNPs. And SNPs are used all through the beef industry and selection now as well for things like meat tenderness, and reproductive traits and other issues. We're using SNPs all the time and it's become cheaper and cheaper to do -- to use genomic testing. And so we found that they're associated with some things which demonstrates that grazing distribution is a genetically affected trait. And it's like -- it's heritable, can be passed on. The issue is that that being able to do that, we're not quite there. We're not being able to use -- to identify bulls yet, that would be more likely to sire daughters, that would be -- climb more and trouble for their water. And that's our goal. Is to be able to select bulls, because that's where the selection pressure is, and that's where we make the most progress. The problem with that is -- the reason for that is twofold. One is that the trade of graze and distribution is not really observable on the bulls themselves. You know, bulls, when you turn them out in a breeding season are preoccupied with cows and not necessarily grazing like they would normally. And then when you have -- when they're not with the cows, typically you have them with a smaller group with just bulls, away from the cows. And so that doesn't really get a chance to look at individual difference between bulls. So that's an issue. And then secondly, we're -- there's a lot of differences between ranches and even between pastures within ranches. Grazing distribution is a very complex trade and we're trying to make some progress to be able to adjust for that, so that we can do that. And another thing that has hurt us is the cost of GPS collars. It's really difficult. In the past, we did our first research without -- with just hiring students and go out and watch cows and find where they are on horseback and record where they were. And that's too expensive. GPS tracking works well. But when I first started GPS collars were $4,000. They're a lot less now and we can -- we're getting them for $250 now, and there's real potential for that to be even maybe less than that. Maybe less than $40 or less. We're testing some of that equipment a well, and we'll probably visit about that later, but those things have limited. So we're trying to work on those issues to be able to identify because you can't -- it's not like weaning weight or yearling weight where you just run the cattle across the scale. You need to measure them and to do that you need several days and that's a tricky thing to do. But for sure, it's probably genetically things and if we know -- if we can have a ranch or you could still use it. If you identify cows that are climbing and find them on a foreign pasture upon ridges, and you know their daughters, those would be daughters I would keep.

>> Yeah, that makes me think of a question. You know, if I'm a rancher, I may feel like I'm being told that I can select for all kinds of things, and terrain use or good distribution may not be at the top of my list. So one question is what do you say to the rancher who says, "I've got other things that are higher priorities to select for, either in, you know, culling cows, or retaining heifers, or picking bulls than livestock distribution?" The other question is, are there other traits that we know of that are, you know, typically connected or associated with good terrain use that are also useful? So it's not a -- so you're not, you know, feeling antagonistic about the things that you're trying to pick?

>> Well, first of all, I -- to answer the first question. In some places they're absolutely right. I wouldn't pay attention to grazing distribution if I lived in Missouri or Kansas, and small pastures. You know, if you're not -- if you don't have a grazing distribution. If you have small areas of cattle and don't have to travel more than a mile from water, or if they don't have to climb steep slopes, then I wouldn't waste my time. But in the West, and especially on public lands, grazing distribution is a big deal. If you have poor grazing distribution on -- If you -- and if you have a public land allotment, you're going to end up with problems, and potentially even conflicts with agencies because cattle makes -- spend too much time near riparian areas, and you may be leaving a lot of grass on the table. And in our experience -- and we've monitored a lot of ranches. Our research is not just on university ranches, although we've done a lot of that too. We've worked all over the West. And about -- often in big pastures, rough pastures, there's often about a third of the pastures on average, that aren't used or used very little. And so that could potentially be used. It's not like cliffs or things but it's just areas a little steeper, farther from water and they're just not getting used. It could be used if we're able to do that. And that's a lot of forage. I mean, very few of our technologies can improve things by up to, like a third or more. So I think there's a lot on the table. And if you have public land agencies they can -- you might -- you risk losing your permit or being removed from the permit or any kind of reductions. It's a big deal for those of us that have that. So they're right on that. And secondly, what the question is, is it important? Well, if it's important, then you need to worry about its impact to other trades. And we've definitely been doing that. Worried about that. We've done two different studies. One is in Montana, and we've been continuing to look at it and interested in it. When I was in Montana on two sets of cows, we measured grazing distribution and all the things you would at a university ranch. Weaning weight, birth weight, reproductive -- reproduction, and [inaudible], height, body condition score, and we didn't find a good relationship with any of them. We think it's a independent trait. And we looked at -- you know, this just more recently in New Mexico State, we looked again to see if there was any measurements of body size. So we took a lot of linear measures, hip height, shoulder height, with the pins, and we didn't find any relationship either. We looked out across at about five ranches and it's just a -- I think it's an independent trade. But some of the things that is related to that we can tell from looking at the genetic markers is, it seems to be associated with things like heat tolerance, maybe potentially residual feed intake. Jim Sprinkle at the University of Idaho has looked at that, and he's -- he has some information that suggests and he's -- needs more research, but suggests that cows with low RFI -- so low intake efficient cows, when it's hot, do a better job climbing and using steep slopes than high residual feed intake. And that might be a heat thing. Also, we've found some associations with the same genetic marsh and sort of with heat tolerance are also associated with terrain use. And so some of the things you might -- you may be ability to tolerate heat, efficiency, those sorts of things. We haven't seen any adverse impact about it. Originally, people used to tell us that -- maybe that cows with that -- have higher milk production bring in bigger calves at higher weaning weights, would be the ones that stay in the bottoms. And the ones that climb up on top would use -- waste all that energy and have the lower wean weights, getting the bread last and all that. And we certainly haven't seen that phenotypically. And they're still the genetic associations that are reported. We haven't been able to do that yet. But we're working on it and we're thinking about it, but we just haven't seen it phenotypically. So I think it's kind of an independent trait in things, that's more like its ability to tolerate heat and efficiency. Those sorts of things may be more closely tied to it and it doesn't look bad.

>> Now that sounds encouraging. It sounds like it is something that you could select for independently, without necessarily, you know, losing some possibly beneficial traits that might be connected to that.

>> That's what we're thinking and that's we're -- our hope.

>> Well, let's move on to supplement placement. You've done a lot of work using supplement placement to distribute animals. My opinion is that that -- the application of that research really has a double benefit for ranchers. In that, you know, one the supplement enables animals to consume feed that would otherwise be marginal. You know but it also caused animals to be in places where they might not otherwise. And like you mentioned on the -- regarding genetic selection, there's oftentimes large areas of abundant grass that would otherwise be perfectly good but if they're two and a half miles from water, they may not get used. Unless you can draw the animals there and hold them and then move them back. I want to say you were the first person that I heard use the term, central place forager. And you were distinguishing livestock grazing behavior between cattle, and something like a sheep. Where cows -- probably because they've got a higher water requirement and just instinct, tend to radiate out from a central attractant like hot water, or supplement, or an area that has you know, highly preferred feed, positive for, you know, beneficial thermal conditions. Same question, how would you summarize what you've learned about supplement placement to manage livestock distribution in the last few decades?

>> Well, it is and to start with your initial comments, there are central place foragers because they really have a water limitation. In the West when it's hot, cattle typically return to water once a day and that's usually at around -- as it starts to heat up in the middle of the day, depending on the temperature. They may come in at 11:00 in the morning, 10:00 in the morning, 9:00 in the morning depending on temperature, that can change some for desert cattle but once they come in and in there, it's hot, and they can take drinking water that -- drinking in the 20 gallons or so that they drink, really reduces the heat load. They can seek out shade and often nearby in -- But once they do that, then as the day cools off, you know a lot of times that's when they often leave and do the big grazing. Because cattle typically have two grazing bouts. One in the morning, early morning sunrise, till it starts getting hot; 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 in the morning. And then as it cools off in the evening until it gets -- till through -- till after sunset and twilight grazing. Then there's some grazing that occurs at night. Probably during moonlit nights. There's some grazing that occurs in the heat of the day, probably more if there's a right [inaudible] nearby. So the hot, cattle secret is to probably change and get them to go the places you want once they leave water. You can't really change where they leave water but you can change where they go. And they often seek out -- one of the things that we've found is that if you put out supplements, there's two ways you can really do it. One, you can hand feed supplements like range cubes or cake. And if you put that out, they eat it up and then it's gone. And when you do that, placing the supplement -- maybe you move them, there's no real ability for them to stay in that area very long. Our research says that the fidelity to where you place cake, the cattle may only stay there about an hour, as opposed to a self-ed supplement like a low moisture block supplement; tubs, barrels, or liquid feeders. Those are different, those are self-fed supplements. And that supplement is always there and when that happens, the cattle tend to stay longer. Our research says like they spend within four or five hours within 100 yards of those supplements. And what this does is that they may go to those supplements towards the end of their evening grazing bout, and they stay there-- may go there on the way to water and stop. They may loaf there. And so if you can get them the supplement sites to become a loafing area, place where they rest -- especially like in the -- from the evening grazing bout to the evening, they'll start out the next morning in that area because they're away from water and start their morning bout. So you've shifted their -- where they graze for each bout and that may make a big difference.

>> You've mentioned some of the different kinds of supplements. Would you say that the low moisture options are the most useful for remote or rough terrain?

>> Yeah, I think they are because they're -- the low moisture blocks are about 23% moisture. They only gain like 3% moisture and they're dehydrated, cooked. And they're highly palatable, because the [inaudible] set in also because they -- like in the wintertime you can put in -- when the forage is dormant, you can put in urea or -- and non-protein nitrogen sources. But you can pick them up became -- they come from sizes of like 250 pounds down to 50 pounds. And you can transport them easily with four wheelers and a trailer. You know, gators, all kinds of ATVs thrown in the back of your truck. Liquid supplements work but it's a hassle because they're only like 40% dry matter. So they're like 60% --

>> Mm-hmm.

>> And you're --

>> Water.

>> -- you're hauling a lot of water and they're messy. Especially in the wintertime it's just a -- it's harder to do. If you can drive around in liquid something that's fine. We've tested both liquid and compared them to low moisture blocks, they're both effective. It's just a hassle factor.

>> Yeah, some of that supplement is not terribly cheap. What would you say about the cost versus the benefit? Has anyone tried to quantify that?

>> Well, you have to -- that's a critical question and usually, self-fed supplements are more expensive than hand-fed supplements like cake or even alfalfa hay. But you got to count the labor that it takes to do it and your ability to change the distribution. You got to add it up all together. All those things are factors on what you want to use. For low moisture blocks, you really only need to put them out -- in our experience with larger blocks, at least, like every two weeks. And so you can -- if you're going to go to a rough spot or a distance away from Vegas that's not easy to get to, that gives you an advantage of time and labor. And the other thing is, if you -- you need to be able to take in the value of that forage that you did. And in our research, we did some economic analyses and using some of the basic things from our experience of years of grazing. And usually it paid significantly to -- because of the extra grazing time. And so if you have a third of the pasture that you can actually effectively change and use that, you might be able to extend your grazing season another -- like a third longer. So like it's, if you normally have -- after weaning in the fall when you need some supplement anyway, because the grass is dormant, instead of two months, you might be able to get three months out and that saves you a month of hay. It's saving a month of feeding hay, yes, can pay for more expensive supplements. So it's a matter of kind of penciling it all out and getting a feel for how much extra time you can get.

>> Yeah, I would say that I've visited with a few pretty tough customers in Washington State and Oregon about the use of supplement. And they're using -- you know, pretty much all arranged land after July one, until whenever people go home is dormant grass. Sometimes with crude protein that's lower than the 7% necessary for maintenance. And they would say that --they would affirm I think everything you just said. The animals are going further and using grass they wouldn't have and they're also maintaining body condition better. Evidently able to digest some feed that they would otherwise avoid.

>> Right. And for sure, just like -- and that's irrelevant to the source. But the nice thing with self-fed supplements is reduced labor and ability to track them to other areas, and that gives extra value to help pay for the more expensive nature of self-fed supplements.

>> Well, let's talk a bit about herding. You know, up until the advent of the fence, this was the norm for nearly all of human history. People, you know, stayed with the animals and mostly took care of them, and directed them because it wouldn't have been cost effective to have fence everywhere. And it's pretty effective. It's also more expensive, at least today. But I think a lot of people would say that that pays off as long as you're -- as long as you have enough animals to justify it. What are your thoughts about herding?

>> Yeah, so you have -- it depends. It's one of those always -- that college professors always have to be able to do is it depends, of course. And one of our favorite sayings -- and this is one that's true. Is that you need to have a situation where fencing is impractical or -- and maybe not even possible. n public lands, new fences, even electric fences aren't always looked upon favorably. If you have a wild horse area, certainly can't build any fences inside a wild horse area. There's issues with wildlife with fences, even electric fence. Elk, especially are -- devastate electric fences. But deer and pronghorn do as well. So electric fences, although they're useful, don't -- on big country are -- don't all -- aren't always feasible. And the thing about herding is you can design it for what you want. The thing is you have to have usually a problem or something to make it worthwhile. And on public land allotments, that's an easier thing to do. Like because usually right period areas are a big issue. And we can do a lot of things to resolve it like changing the season of grazing. But if you have to graze the pasture with the right period area in the late season, when it's hot. So like Washington, Northwest, most of the West, like you start from late July through early September, that's an issue. That's the hardest part. And that's why we did our research with riparian areas and herding in that time. In Montana, it's when it's hot. When the uplands are dry and riparians are still green, the challenge is there to keep them out of there. And so to herd them -- we used herding and I don't think herding at all be effective if we hadn't learned and taken the things of Bud Williams, low stress, livestock handling, because we really -- we took it to heart and it made all the difference in the world. People -- I used to always say with herding, that the cattle would beat them back to the creek and I think that's true. If you don't use low stress hurling and you don't use some thinking about it. So if you try to -- you know, normally as good cowboys we like to get our saddle horses in the dark, you know, be up with the cattle as the sun barely peeps out, we can barely even make out cattle. And that's not what's herding for placement should be. Because the reason is when you've herd, you want -- you're trying to move them to forage. And so if you move them early, by the time you get anywhere, shortly thereafter, they're going to need to go get water as the day gets hot. So your placement has done nothing. So the secret is, is to try to get them -- is to her them more mid-day. And so remember as I talked about earlier, as cow come in -- about 10:00, 11:00, and then hang out and leave in the evening, well, during that time is when a great deal of the right period and degradation and issues occur. So what you want to do is let them go get a drink, and then you know, get up late, eat a late breakfast, early lunch, and then saddle up and then move them out in the heat of the day. Exactly opposite of what everybody says to do. And you can't really do it unless you have effective herding. And so if you -- the low stress stockmanship is effective, you can do it with low stress, take your time, and move them away from the stream in mid-day, since you cut the time in the right period area, have them loaf and stuff somewhere else and then you start their grazing outside the right period area. We've done that and we've got to -- when we did do that, we did it in Montana. We did it in the heat of the day, and we did it in August. And we definitely saw a measure of improvement in the time spent by measuring GPS collars, increasing stubble heights, and we couldn't see any decline in performance. Now it's unique. It is not -- it takes some time and patience and certainly some low stress stockmanship skills to get that done. If you -- you could probably do it otherwise, but you will probably be frustrated and things. The stockmanship makes a big deal, in my opinion.

>> Yeah. That reminds me of an experience I've had the last year. So I was out the other day with a friend of mine here looking at a potential grazing area. And walking and riding through some areas, I was really surprised at the amount of difference in microclimate from one spot to the next, even at the same elevation, sometimes even at the same slope. But there might be 10- or 15-degrees difference in the air temperature from one spot to another. You now and if we don't experience that because we don't walk or ride horseback when we travel anymore. You know, but obviously the animals know very well where those places are and they're prone to find them. I would suspect that that would be one major factor in whether or not you're placing is successful. You know whether or not you've found a spot that they're willing to stay in. Or, you know, if you try to put them here and they know that a quarter mile that way is a spot that's 10 degrees cooler, they're probably going to go over there.

>> Right and so on placement, placement is critical in that. And there's several things. One thing is -- but we've got to place them right. That means you just don't -- when you're done you don't just ride away. Need to slow down and you can actually tell -- you want to put them in a good spot, like you said, Tip, in a cool spot. But you want to slow them down. You want to take the movement out of animals or else they'll just keep -- probably keep moving. You want them to stop where the cows start grazing, calves start nursing. Some calves may lay down, cows might lay down but stopping, grazing and nursing are some good signs that you have got the movement of the herd stopped appropriately. So that's important. And that's something you learn, you know, in a stockmanship class. But the other thing that's important that we thought is if you're doing it, you're moving them to a place where there's some drier forage, you're -- you have some issues because riparian area is still green, usually. And so we've put out -- we tried to supplement. And supplement did not really keep them out of the creek. But what it did do, is it held them where we put them and we got a lot more use nearby because you take them to a spot. And if they have like a -- we took a little moisture supplement and we had salt. We took them to a spot that had those things and it was higher, should have been a little cooler. Then the cattle would actually get to where they'd be expecting the supplement, and they knew they -- where they were going and the last -- almost the last quarter mile, sometimes the cows would trot, even up hill to go -- to get there, to get to the spot. To get to the spot or to get to their term first. And the calves would just stop, and it really reduced the effort to place them because they were placed, man. They stopped; they were ready to eat. And they knew it was there because we did it a few times. And so he could do -- take them to a supplement and anecdotal -- guys of other herders in Montana, we visited with, that really helped taking them to supplement. It's almost like a reward at the end of the journey.

>> Mm-hmm.

>> And that -- I think that helps on the placement as well.

>> A couple of questions about herding. I suspect that when people think about this, at least my tendency is to think about herding cattle on larger landscapes as something akin to shepherding sheep. Where you've got shepherds who are pretty much living with the animals. Is that necessary? Or is there -- because that may feel like -- to a lot of people that that's unattainable, unsustainable, not affordable. You know, can you get to the benefits of herding without something like a 24/7-day dedicated person?

>> Right. And I think that's absolutely the case. It's totally different because what you want to do is you -- you're just moving them away from a spot to a spot that they want, or you think cattle would want to be. And if you -- and Bud Williams would say is that if you do it right, the cattle will want to be where you put them. Now I don't know about that but you try to create a spot and so you're -- the idea is you're just trying to move them to a new spot, rather than stay with them. And we've had some lucky -- probably don't -- we did it in right period area. We did it every day. But one of the things that was interesting is on the right period area, after we started doing that, we only ended up having to herd on 60% of the days because soon the cattle figured out that some cowboy on horseback is going to come there in the middle of the day anyway, and so they just started leaving. And so I think if you did that system long enough, you would only have to periodically reinforce it. And we also did some in Arizona and New Mexico in the wintertime for dry forage, with the idea of using herding to place them to change where they graze, and maybe even to use underutilized feed, and maybe even to make fire fuel reduction issues. And then we did it every other day, like maybe four or five times a week. And we were really successful, and the cattle would often go the other days. Essentially, the herding -- repeated herding only became like reinforcement. And every time, if you move the supplement, of course you have to remove them to that area. So I think you can do it with a lot less work. And the longer the cattle become accustomed to it, you know, get the routine, I think the less you'll have to herd. They'll catch on.

>> The last question that I've got on this is whether you've seen some renewal of the idea of a grazing association to justify the cost of a herd. Or in situations where, you know, a grazing area is too remote for a rancher to, you know, run up there two or three times a week themselves. Do you think that's worthwhile? Where you could, you know, put together enough animals that it makes it affordable? And in the second part of that question is, is that compatible with public land leases anymore? In other words, you know, if you've got, you know, four BLM permittees, they want to do something like that. And instead of running all separately, run together and have somebody take care of them. Would that be -- is that a viable option?

>> It is for some people, but there's some rules. I mean, you got -- For some folks that will work well, if there's already -- if it's a common allotment, and there's already multiple permittees in the same allotment, that's a real option. But there are some issues about running in common and that, and there's some resistance to that because of bull selection and disease issues and things like that. So you got to respect that as well. So that doesn't mean you couldn't jointly -- moldable permittees can jointly hire a skilled herder. You could just do it on Tuesdays, go to one spot, and Wednesdays go on another spot. That's very feasible.

>> Mm-hmm.

>> And so I think the idea of getting grazing associations things are there, but it doesn't mean you can't afford or can't do it, unless you have a common allotment. I think that's not the case. And another thing to realize is that you're not going to move the entire herd each day. If you have large herds, six, 700 head, you're still maybe only moving 30, 40 at a time because you simply -- in rough terrain -- in that their cattle are going to be scattered and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Some folks would like to really keep them all together for herd impact and that's a different issue. But when you're trying to get distribution in mountainous rough terrain, you may want to have smaller groups of cattle and just move different groups different days. And so if you go -- one herder may be just fine to move 30, 40 here one day and then go a few days and move another herd and you still might have really good impacts. There's lots of ways to skin a cat and that you don't always have to move the entire group or expect to. It may be different. In our experience, some days we started off moving -- we had herds of about 60 just experimental, that's all we had to do and sometimes we moved 50, sometimes we moved 10. And that's all that we found in riparian area. So it's just a matter of, cattle move up into groups and go different places. And so you just need to move the ones that are the biggest issue. Redirect them.

>> Yeah, I think part of what I'm hearing is that it's really effective to combine different methods such as, you know, this version of herding plus using supplement and you're almost retraining the animals' daily movements to be something that's more useful in terms of avoiding things like riparian areas and getting to grass. I want to say that you've done some research on combining technology -- you know, low cost technology with supplement. And what I'm recalling, was some research where there was a flag, a visible flag planted in the ground next to supplement. And then whenever the supplement moved, the flag went with it. And eventually the animals learn to associate the flag with the supplement, and then you can put the flag somewhere, and the animals would go straight to it. That's quite a bit lower cost and lower complication than, you know, say a GPS collar and a virtual fence. Am I remembering, that right? And was that effective? You know, how long would that association last?

>> Yeah, I -- that buddy of mine, Bob Welling, used to work for Ridley and tried that. He had a little luck. It's a great way to probably attract them to an area to see if they find it. But one thing you have to remember is cattle are smart. They're really smart and we don't give them credit. They'll immediately figure out -- if they see flags and there's supplement provided, then they'll associate the flags with the supplement. But if they go to the flags and there's no supplement there, they will immediately blow it off. I can -- and so I don't think it would last very long. One thing for example you can quickly do is if you ever noticed, we used to -- we were herding cattle around and had supplement off and on. And if you saw -- if they happened to see a black barrel that we had rolled away, it didn't pick up -- which we normally try to pick up, but sometimes you miss them. If they saw a black barrel, which was -- which this -- the little moisture block was in, they would just run to it and then instantly, they would take off and leave it if it's empty. So that idea of using the flagging is a good way to help them locate it if you need to, but I don't think -- it's not going to last. And we've done some -- we've heard some ranchers anecdotally that they were hoping that once they got -- once they did this once, they wouldn't have to -- Once they got the cattle used to climbing for the supplement, they could just quit feeding the supplement and it didn't work out very well. Yeah. But it's -- they may do it some, but once they know it's not there, they know it.

>> Well that sounds quite a bit like electric fence. You know, electric fence is a psychological barrier, rather than a physical one. And if animals experience a hot fence, they learn pretty quickly to avoid it. But if the fence goes down, doesn't take very long before that psychological barrier is removed and they just walk right through it.

>> That's exactly right. That's -- I mean, it just -- you've got -- you know, you just can't -- it is hard to trick them very long. Cattle very long.

>> What are some other -- stuff like electric fences and obvious technology that's been around for quite a while. And it's a little bit trickier to use that in, you know, more rugged and remote environments. The other -- [inaudible] I'll talk right now about virtual fence, e-fence, you know, different brands, different approaches.

>> On virtual fencing, there's been a lot of work over years. And my colleague right across the parking lot from me, Dean Anderson, did the bulk of that work and got that started. And it's -- but it is never really completely taken off. There's a lot more interest in it now, and a lot more companies doing it. origins in Australia and several -- a few here in the US and it's moving. It's a -- they have viable electric products that seemed to work but there -- it's still issues and there's still cost thing. So we'll see if they -- if these companies are successful, but the whole idea of a virtual fence is -- need is in -- I just caution everyone to think, is it -- You can't expect it to do everything. You -- I think if -- the more complex things are, the more issues that will be and the cost will go up. So I think the simpler use, the simpler systems, what would be great is to be able to have some system to keep -- to limit access to riparian zones without having a fence so that you could let wildlife, fishermen, tourists, everybody else go through and still keep the livestock off of it. And there's a lot of talk about using it to even move animals, which there's labor intensive and it's a hassle. But sometimes, the more complex it is, the more I'm worried about being [inaudible] and higher the cost. And so it's new research, it's exciting. We'll see what's happening. I'm even signed up in two or three weeks for a new webinar on virtual fencing out of Australia. It'd be really interesting to see where they are. My colleagues in Australia have been testing that. There's still some technical issues that they've been working on. Hopefully they have them fixed and it's still expensive. So it's one of those sort of things that we'll see. Price electronics are going down, things are getting better, maybe it'll work, but it's certainly one of those things that you could do to potentially receive some real issues on public lands where there's a high -- you know, there's a high value of change in distribution. You know, the same rationale that we use to justify herding, is the same reason that virtual fence might pay as well.

>> Mm-hmm. Are there some maybe lesser known technologies that would be useful for managing livestock distribution that are not quite as sexy as virtual fence, that people ought to know about?

>> Yeah. There's other people talking about it. I mean, virtual fence first started at the Oregon State and they tried it out and even -- in success, we tested a virtual fencing system at -- let's see. The Great Basin National Park and it was a -- instead of using a GPS to locate the animals and -- I think it was more like a -- like we used for -- the invisible fences for dogs in our yards, instead of using -- directed antennas to dig beams and then once it got close, then there was an audio tone just like an electric dog collar and then a charge. Those may still be a [inaudible]. there's some interest in that [inaudible] launch by -- University of Idaho's thinking about testing some of that. So there may be some other options related to virtual fencing that are simpler, maybe cheaper. It's just a matter of cost, time, and although technology companies always -- they promise the moon, and it's getting them out there and testing them in the real world is the real proof of the pudding, and we just hope something comes up better.

>> Yeah. You've had a lot of experience with GPS collars. Do you feel like there's some applications for, you know, the average commercial rancher to have some applications for GPS collars? Even if they're not using them in combination with, you know, a virtual fence type system? Just for tracking animals.

>> Yeah. We're really working on that ourselves is -- there's one for sure, is that it's sometimes really nice to know and then the cost of GPS collars are going down. So it's really interesting. If you have an issue, you could just -- you'd probably be able to build your -- build or buy GPS collars and then we can be able to do it. And the way we have done it for years is that the data is stored on board on the unit. So you get the cows in, put on a collar, and then maybe in -- at branding, and then get them off at weaning in the fall. And then you can see where they've been. And we've been doing that for years. And that can have some real value for ranchers as well, to put on a few just to see where your cattle go. All our branch or all the cooperators and other students always really enjoyed that. But more recently, I never thought it -- I was worried it would never happen in my lifetime, but it's getting more and more likely. There's a commercial unit now. Is a real time or a near real time GPS tracking. GPS tracking in real time is used all the time as the shipping and value chains to see where everything is. And because of that, that technology is getting cheaper and faster and battery technology is improving. So one of the things that might be really useful is to use real time GPS tracking, to help us manage. For example, if we knew where the cattle were going every day, or they weren't, we could respond when riparian areas start to be an issue and either move them, go herd them, and then respond to them more quickly. If there's an area of concentration, if there's an area they're not being used, we could use that information for -- to respond immediately, if we knew where they were. And I've had ranchers -- ever since I've been doing this, asking about, "Hey, where can I buy one of those to find my cows so I can bring them in or find -- just find my cows?" And I've always said, well, you really can't do that. We just -- we got to wait till we get them gathered to find out where they been and not where they are. And this -- that may be changing. There's a company -- there are several companies out there promising it. We've been testing one called -- that's called the mOOvement, with two os; mOOvement. And it looks promising. It uses new internet of things, and [inaudible] gateways and cell phone technology. So there's a tag that has a battery, even has its solar charger on the tag, and it sends a position every hour. And they're still working on it. They still have some issues but they're working on it, and it seemed to work pretty well in gentle terrain. The thing is, it needs -- pretty much needs line of sight so it's going to be more difficult in the -- use in mountainous terrain where we probably need it the most. Another company, Cirrus is -- we're hoping to be able to test one of their tags soon. Other company in Australia. It uses satellite to transfer the things and they're open to have a -- at least a beta version to test -- start testing on ranches. We're going to hopefully be testing them ranches in Australia and in the western US to see how well that works. And that would solve the problem of having antennas all over the place, that's a restriction with the mOOvement. But I think -- it' just knowing that would help. And the other thing is that, that comes with having real time GPS. Besides knowing where they are, and be able to manage appropriately and see distribution issues and opportunities. It also would use to see if -- put them on bulls and see if there's steam with the cows, see if animals are ill because if they're ill, they don't moo. We could see if a water system tank failure -- because if normally cattle go to water, drink and then leave. If they just stay at water, we all know that there's an issue and we -- if we had that in real time, we could move quickly and respond and even remotely monitor, whether a tank and water system has a potential failure. So there's a lot of uses for having these real time GPS. And accelerometers can often be fitted on the same thing. There's some companies that sell near or real time accelerometers for detecting changes in feeding time, behavior activity. It can be associated with illness, calving, things like that. So it all -- having all that information, could be really useful for us.

>> Yeah, absolutely. If a person was going to do that, you know, say you've got a mother herd of 500 cows, would you put a GPS unit on 10% of them? Any idea, kind of what percentage would be useful to get valuable data?

>> Yeah, I know that -- Ideally, of course, it'd be to put one on everything and then you can watch for illness and sickness.

>> Right.

>> But for distribution, you could probably do that with a smaller percentage, maybe like you say, 10%, 5% what you can afford. And you could probably play with it and keep using that. I'm just excited about that. There's a simple approach, you know, that's having a few done. That idea has -- can solve quite a few issues. Especially like [inaudible] bees are flying to cattle. If we had that, and have an idea -- if we use it for illness and things, or -- it may be difficult. And for sure, probably one of the first places I would always put it on and -- is on a few cows and the bulls. The bulls are a big deal. And so if we can figure out a way to get it on bulls, because of the potential if a bull is not doing his job and not following the cows and not getting out, could be maybe because he's injured or just lazy, low libido, you can find out right away. And that has some real potential on reproduction, which is always the number one determinant of profitability in the cow calf ranch. So I'm really excited about the potential putting on bulls and they just got to be tough enough to withstand plus, that's the issue. So I think there's a lot of opportunity for it. And there's a lot of companies working on it. And I'm hoping that I'm getting -- I'm definitely getting a little long and the tooth on my end. I'm really hoping that by the time I retire, we'll be -- we'll have a cost effective, real time GPS unit. We may have virtual fence as well.

>> That sounds great. I can talk about this all day, but we probably should wrap it up. Is there anything that you wanted to say that we haven't talked about yet?

>> I think that -- I think the secret is that -- it's that you mentioned it earlier, Tip, is that to take advantage of multiple things. It's -- distribution is an expensive, tough thing, and if we can try multiple things, all our research, even picking the best cattle -- picking cattle that used -- that travel better, and more adapted, use of -- taking advantage of supplements that have thrown it out the waterhole. If we can put it out where we want the cattle to be, and show them. If we need to herd once in a while, don't be afraid to saddle up the horse and use a real biologic thing. I certainly highly recommend taking the stockmanship class and learning those skills. It's fun and exciting and thing, and keep your ear ground on all the new changes in technology. There's like -- it's still -- people promise the moon, but pay attention to universities and extension folks, and you know, your neighbors and friends, and see what the new technology brings. It's kind of an exciting time there and we -- if we combine all these things, we can probably make a huge difference and make ranching sustainable, and we'll show off all the great things that the livestock industry can do the work -- do in the West. You know, we can produce great meat, great food, in a very sustainable way.

>> Very good. Dr. Bailey, thank you very much for your time.

>> Thanks a lot, Tip. Appreciate it. Appreciate the opportunity to visit with everyone and visit with you. It's been fun. Thanks.

[ Music ]

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to show@ArtofRange.com. For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at ArtofRange.com. Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission; empowering range line managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at ArtofRange.com This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education, through the USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Mentioned Resources

Learn more about Dr. Bailey's work at www.researchgate.net/profile/Derek_Bailey

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