Animal Behavior with Dr. Fred Provenza

Dr. Fred Provenza joins us to talk Animal Behavior

Fred Provenza

Dr. Fred Provenza

What makes our food healthy? How is that related to livestock health and animal behavior? How do animals choose which foods to eat and why? Dr. Fred Provenza provides us with insight into these questions and much more during our conversation. Human, animal and soil health are closely related. Join us for a very informative conversation. Please tell us what you think in the comments section!

[Content protected for Lifetime, Yearly, Monthly members only]

Connect with Dr. Fred Provenza:

The BEHAVE program on animal behavior

More on Fred Provenza and animal behavior research

About the BEHAVE Program:

Oregon Rancher Teaches Cows to Eat Sagebrush

In 2005 after hearing Fred Provenza speak, Mat Carter, an Oregon rancher, felt challenged to use sagebrush as winter-feed and as a way to grow more grass for his cows. That following winter, he corralled 150 cow-calf pairs with electric fence on 5 to10 acres for 3 days and fed them 15 to 20 lbs of meadow hay. The pastures were a mix of low and big sagebrush, gray and green rabbit-brush, bitterbrush with an understory of grasses.  Grazing decreased the amount of brush and increased grass and new sagebrush seedlings.

The following year, Mat used 400 dry pregnant cows. That year snow cover was light so he fed 3 to 10 lbs/hd/d of meadow hay and moved his cows about every 3 days. The amount of hay fed depended on weather and available forage.  Mat noted that as he turned his cattle onto a new strip some ate grass, others bitterbrush and others sagebrush.

In 2007-08, he grazed rangeland where the canopy cover of big sagebrush was 50 to 70%. Some of the shrubs stood 4 to 6 feet tall.  Snow was deep that year, 2 to 4 feet. For about a month his cattle were fed 10 to 15 lbs/hd/d of hay. The rest of their diet was sagebrush.

In 2008, he leased some cattle and trained them to eat sagebrush.  Snow was deep so only sagebrush was available.  He started feeding 20 lbs of hay and over a 2-week period he reduced hay to 6 lbs/hd/d. Cattle were in good body condition when they came to the ranch and remained in good condition throughout the winter.

Besides saving on hay and increasing the amount of grasses and forbs on his rangeland, Mat has noted several other benefits to using sagebrush as winter forage. His cattle eat sagebrush even when other forage is available. They also eat plants he had never seen them eat before like stinging nettle, whitetop, lupine and various wild flowers. Finally, when cattle graze sagebrush rather than hay, they require less water.

One important point is Mat calves in June.  During the middle of winter his cows have relatively low nutrient requirements. Browsing sagebrush has had no adverse effect on his calf crop and his cattle seem to breed back just fine. He’s found no down side to encouraging his cattle to eat sagebrush.

2006 Studies

Our first study was conducted on small pastures (.62 acres) with permanent fences. For this technique to be effective, producers must be able to use livestock to browse large areas of sagebrush either using herding or temporary electric fence.

In 2006, graduate student Michael Guttery, range extension specialist Roger Banner and professors Fred Provenza and Terry Messmer also from USU conducted a study to determine the feasibility of browsing sagebrush with supplemented sheep on at a larger scale. They grazed eight 8-acre plots with 1000 mature ewes from mid-October to the end of November on sagebrush dominated rangeland on Utah’s Parker Mountain. A 35-acre demonstration site was also browsed by 1200 yearling ewes from mid-November to mid-December on Blue Mountain near Vernal, UT.

Ewes received a pelleted supplement of 30% corn, 5% soybean meal, 45% alfalfa and 20% beet pulp. On Parker Mountain, ewes were supplemented at a rate of 2 to 3 lbs/hd/day and on Blue Mountain yearling ewes received 1.7 lbs/hd/day. The supplement not only helped sheep consume more sagebrush but was also used to flush them.

Sagebrush was heavily browsed during the study. The photo above shows the level of heavy browsing most plants received. The objective of this study is to determine if supplementation and high-density, short-duration fall grazing by sheep will increase biodiversity and improve habitat for sage grouse on sagebrush dominated rangeland. The study will also track reproductive performance of ewes and compare costs of grazing treatments with traditional rangeland treatments such as mechanical or chemical methods.

This project was funded by the USDA-NRCS/USU Sage-grouse Restoration Project.

2004 Studies

Graduate students Tyler Staggs and Ryan Woodland, and professor Neil West in the Department of Forest, Range and Wildlife Sciences at Utah State University conducted studies to determine if supplementation and high-density, short-duration fall grazing would increase diversity in plant communities dominated by sagebrush. Their study was conducted at Deseret Land and Livestock in Rich County, UT. Their results indicate fall grazing and supplementation with energy and protein reduced sagebrush abundance and increased biodiversity.

The studies above were conducted on small pastures (.62 acres) with permanent fences. For this technique to be effective, producers must be able to use livestock to browse large areas of sagebrush either using herding or temporary electric fence. As a next step, range extension specialist Roger Banner and professor Fred Provenza also from Utah State University plan to graze eight 8-acre plots in sagebrush dominated rangeland on Utah’s Parker Mountain. The study will determine if supplementation and high-density, short-duration fall grazing by sheep will increase biodiversity and improve habitat for sage grouse on sagebrush dominated rangeland. The study will also compare costs of grazing treatments with traditional rangeland treatments such as mechanical or chemical methods.

Animal Behavior

Training livestock to eat weeds

Singup below to get a free Mob Grazing eBook

About the author:

. Follow him on Twitter / Facebook.

  • Rowdy

    For those that are about to start this podcast fhis is a very interesting talk but it starts off pretty dry just stay with it and it is worth the time

    • Rowdy,

      Thank you for saying that. How can I improve as an interviewer in the future to make the entire interview relevant for you?

  • Candy

    Haven’t been able to listen yet and would love to, but the download option for the podcasts seems to have disappeared and I use an mp3 player to listen while I’m at work. Can you help?
    Thanks

  • Paddy Reynolds

    WOW!!! Amazing stuff. It’s so good to know that as we strive to improve our soils all these amazing things are happening that ultimately translate into health. Healthy soils, healthy pastures, healthy animals and healthy people. So obvious when articulated by someone as intelligent as Fred. Thanks Chris. Another home run!!

    • Paddy,

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it! How can I improve next time?

  • Paddy Reynolds

    Have just been on http://www.behave.net Watched a video on how to teach cows to eat weeds. When I began with HM, it never entered my mind that it was possible to develop a “forage only” herd. Now it seems that this can be extended to weed eaters. Not only train them but calves inutero develop the habit. It just blows my brain.

  • Fairan Barnett

    Wonderful interview. Thank you so much.

    • Thank you for listening =D