Cattle Are Smarter Than You and I 

Today’s post is about an observation Ian made on his ranch with his cattle. Thankfully he shared his story with me.

If you are one of those people who needs scientific proof and research papers put out in a peer reviewed journal, skip this post. This story is about a farmer/rancher making real world observations on his land with his livestock using his brain and experience to come up with an explanation of what he’s seen.

The story goes like this. One day Ian was out observing his cattle, just like any other day. Maybe he had just moved them into a new paddock. This paddock is of a decent size and has a large pond in it. That day Ian was on the top side of the pond watching the cattle drink. Watching how your animals drink is very important. If they are licking the water and sniffing a lot without really taking deep gulps of water, they are telling you something. They are telling you that the water is undesirable to them. The problem is probably an improper pH or Anaerobes are present in the water.

Ian probably didn’t think too much of observing his cattle drinking, because they were drinking big gulps of water. However the next day he was in for a surprise.

On the downward side of the pond, where the dam wall is, the spillway for the pond comes around the dam. In this particular paddock you have to go through a gate, which is close to the downhill side of the damn wall. Shortly after where you go through the gate it gets wet. While Ian was driving through this gate he saw a lot of cattle drinking this water. Why would they be drinking this water?

What I didn’t tell you is the previous day, after Ian was done observing his cattle drink from the pond, he went out through the same gate, going through the wet area below the dam wall. The previous day he had seen a group of cattle here urinating. Not a big deal if your a rancher, you see your animals urinate all the time, right? Wrong.

The connection Ian made about the cattle urinating on day one in the wet spot and seeing them drink from that same area on day two is mind boggling to me.

Ian’s theory is that because the cattle urinated in/on the wet area below the dam wall on day one and were found drinking from that same exact area on day two is this; the cattle changed the pH of the water in this area. They changed the pH of the water with their urine. Why would they chose to drink from this water when they have a nice big pond full of water a few feet away? The answer is pH.

Cattle find certain water sources more desirable than others. I’m sure we as humans do too, but are we intelligent enough to distinguish between two water sources out on the ranch/farm like cattle can do? I don’t think so, at least not without some sort of tool. That tool could be anything people use to measure water including pH paper or something fancier like a $5,000 instrument.

It was a very compelling story. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. There were not just a few head of cattle drinking from this small wet area on the second day but a lot of them.

Cattle prefer water, as far as I know, that has a neutral pH. The neutral pH is 7. We also monitor for animal performance by taking the pH of livestock and testing their urine with pH paper. Our goal is to always have an animal that has a pH of 7. Why? There are many reasons for this and I will write about them at a later date, but basically the animals is functioning to the best of it’s ability when the pH of the urine is 7.

After Ian told me this incredible story I was really excited. He told me something to the effect of “nature is so cleaver and we are just beginning to understand how clever she really is.” This is an example of what Ian said in our interview about monitoring his land through the animal. He uses his animals to tell him what is happening on his land. Without paying attention to the animal Ian would have never made this amazing observation.

I want to encourage everyone to take a little more time to observe their animals and start making connections between the many relationships that are present in our lives and on our land.

Chris Stelzer

Chris Stelzer is a published Author, founder of Agricultural Insights and creator of many resources that help family farmers and ranchers grow their businesses. His flagship courses are the Grazing Mastery Program and The Farm Marketing Mastery Program. 

Chris Stelzer

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