Understanding Managed Grazing
Working Lands –
Fuel Reduction – In the West, sheep and goats are now regularly grazing to reduce brush and flammable dry grasses to keep our communities safe from wildfire.
Fencing and Paddock Systems – Modern shepherding often looks different than storybooks and media. Flimsy looking mesh fence may contain a powerful solar shock, so never touch plastic fence! Tools of the trade have changed; for example, if you do not see a water trough, the shepherd may be using a stainless-steel valve waterer which is cleaner and less wasteful. Sometimes single or multi-strand electric wire is used to contain flocks, and shepherds or ranchers may use horses, ATVs, herding dogs, or all three to move flocks.
The Science of Regenerative Grazing – Grasslands and savannah environments coevolved with grazing and are heathiest, most productive and biodiverse, and safest from destructive fires when grazed intensively by ruminants followed by long rest periods. This disruption and rest cycle, characterized by rapid movement across a landscape, is a method human ranchers use to mimic the exact effect on the landscape that predators such as mountain lions have on the ecosystem. Predators keep herbivores clustered together defensively and moving from area to area quickly, which stamps down plant material into the soil where it can decay biologically, sequestering carbon and enriching the soil. This is the cycle that built all the most fertile grasslands in the world, including the American great plains, laying down rich soil that tillage farming has destroyed at alarming rates in a geological eye blink. By returning these ancestral patterns to the landscape, native plants and animals can benefit, and so can the humans that share the landscape.
How Does Regenerative Grazing Impact Mountain Lions? – Mountain lions have territories that can range from 25-400 square miles, or 16,000-256,000 acres. Most fire fuel reduction, cover crop grazing, and weed abatement grazing is accomplished in electric paddocks of 2-10 acres at a time, so these kind of planned grazing operations are probably not blocking a mountain lion from accessing their territory. In ideal circumstances a grazing flock can move across a landscape without disrupting wildlife, as they are light on the land and soon gone from any given field. Generally, a mobile flock is less likely to impact lion territory than a sedentary one, since the flock is not taking over land permanently. A mountain lion may be tempted to prey on livestock as a novelty, but is less likely to habituate since the scenario is constantly changing and human presence is high, which these cautious cats don’t like. Grazing flocks can actually provide benefits to mountain lions by decreasing fire danger, which threatens lions, and by increasing the value of forage quality after they move on, which makes higher value pasture for deer.
How to be a Good Neighbor TO Grazing Operations
In the seasons to come, the public will be in closer quarters with mobile flocks across the country, and the flock’s guardians, than many people have ever been before. Learning etiquette and safety tips for coexistence helps us all be fire and climate change resilient, while keeping wildlife safe.
Keep Dogs Away From Livestock – The single most important tip is to never, ever let your dogs run loose near livestock of any kind, and keep a respectful distance from working dogs and ranchers on horses or ATVs. Do not plan walks along their fence lines, but watch from a distance. Domestic dogs are a major cause of sheep death, and even very small dogs can worry and harass livestock to the point of causing death from heat exhaustion or stroke.
Be Mindful of Fencing and Paddock Systems – Don’t reach over or touch electric fences! If there’s a flock grazing in your neighborhood, it might be a good idea to ask for contact information. If something seems to be wrong with an animal or fence, call the rancher, vineyard, or manager of the outfit first. If they are unreachable or you don’t have contact information call emergency services, but try not to intervene yourself if at all possible.
How to be a good neighbor to a flock with Livestock Guardian Dogs
Livestock Guardian Dogs are a core part of pastoralist cultures in many countries and some have long traditions of close contact with the community, including leading flocks through Eastern European towns daily. LGDs are not necessarily any more aggressive than any other dog, but they have differences that you may not be used to if your only experience has been with pet dogs.
A trait commonly held by LGD breeds is aloofness and independence. They are more likely to see humans as colleagues or intruders than as authority figures or friends. As a general rule, give the dog space and do not expect to pet the dog, especially if they are working (livestock are present). While these dogs can be gentle giants and very tolerant of children, as with any other unknown dog, never let your child run up to them. If sheep are grazing in your neighborhood and have one or more LGDs with them, enjoy watching them from a distance only.
LGDs may spend most of the day sleeping; this is normal, not a sign of a problem. They are largely nocturnal and are most active at the times lions are- twilight and daybreak. They often bark at night territorially to let the local carnivores know they are there, which prevents them from needing to have a direct confrontation. While it may be annoying, their barking is often protected by Right to Farm laws, and is a sign of their non-violent guardian presence on the land. Think of it as an Olde Nightwatchman calling “Alls Well” periodically through the night. You may notice they bark more at dusk, and then again at dawn, and are quiet in the middle of the night unless something disturbs them. Dusk and dawn are the most typical carnivore hunting times so the dogs are extra vigilant.
While LGDs need shelter from extreme weather like any animal, they are very well adapted to living outdoors and it is often difficult to convince them to come inside, even in harsh weather. Most have intensely insulated double coats and can even be seen casually snoozing in the rain, away from their warm dry dog house.
You may see an LGD wearing a collar from which a short length of round wood is dangling. These are legally required in some places in Europe to identify the dog as an LGD. Proponents of their use say that they prevent jumping fences, and slow the dogs down just enough to keep them from actually catching a carnivore, which would be bad for both the dog and the mountain lion! Whether the dog is wearing it for tradition or training, it’s not painful to the dog. They can still run and drink and do everything they need to do.
If a dog appears injured, or there is a problem with fencing or loose sheep, contact the rancher first. If they are unreachable and it’s an emergency, contact Animal Care Services. Generally, do not intervene yourself. A dog responding to a threat to their beloved livestock, or that is in pain, may not understand that you are there to help.
Enjoy witnessing one of the oldest partnerships in human history and one of the most effective (93-98%) non-lethal coexistence methods for ranching with wildlife safety!