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Kachana Landscape Management Workshop 2003

“Very High Animal Density” Demonstration

September 3th


Question: Why would we want to be able to run our animals at such high densities?

Answer: Because of the effects that we can achieve. — There are a lot of variable factors involved and outcomes of such “treatment to land” can vary quite considerably. In many commercial herd situations we do not need to be able to run stock like this so long as we have methods of keeping animal stress-levels at a minimum. However in the use of herd-animals as a “landscape-management tool” there are numerous instances where this type of herd-control is desirable:

  • Kick-starting successional advancement
  • The stabilisation of riverbanks and the control of gully-erosion
  • The control of undesirable plant-species and the rejuvenation of senescent vegetation

So what actually happens? — We use the managed movement of large animals to create “edge-effect” for micro-organisms. We literally build a new miniature landscape with mountains, valleys, caves, lakes, drainage lines, dams and mineral deposits. This is caused by countless different size hoof-prints, crushed organic matter, ground particles of sand and silt, scattered dung and urine in high concentrations… What to the human eye may appear like devastation will in fact represent opportunity and diversity to the millions and billions of bacteria and fungi and larger micro-organisms that make up our food-web. – We then need to ensure that these organisms are given enough time to make this “new environment” productive… When (if at all) and how often do we repeat the process? That all depends on what our goal is and the type of tools at our disposal…

(“Edge-effect” at any level spells “opportunity”. In nature, edges are the places where we find more action: Where water and soil meet; where forest and meadow meet; where hillside and plain meet; etc)

A birds-eye view of the demonstration area

91 animals were called into an area of 25 metres by 30 metres containing enough standing dry feed for about 15-20 head. About sixty came in and the tail was gently pressured in to demonstrate a herd density of about 1213 head/ha…

There was no stress, “herd effect” did not set in (this would have been different if there had been 91 adult animals — in this case only half were fully-grown and they were small at that) and the “landscape management tool” was functioning at about 30% of possible “RPM”, but the animals were soon telling us something:

Within minutes animals were leaving… (They were not locked into that area.)

Our options then were:

  1. Turn our backs and leave
  2. Bring them back and close the fence behind them
  3. Call them back and give them more
  4. Call them into a different paddock

We opted for choice number three. During the day we rationed out a 150-metre strip in that 25 m lane with three more moves. That night they got the remaining 50 metres. They had access to water and nitrogen supplements the whole time and they could have gone back to where they had come from. 24 hours later they had full bellies and were ready for their next assignment.

Note: These animals are the descendants of the British Shorthorn first brought to this area over a hundred years ago. They have survived the harsh selection processes dealt out by this land and we have not introduced any new blood… they are rangeland cattle working for a living; at this stage we require workers not sumo-wrestlers or Olympic athletes, so there are no prizes for “looks”…

24 hours later...

We use the “natural disturbance” (or “animal impact”) that these animals create in what we call a controlled “biological storm”: I.e. we influence:

Furthermore we can associate this event with other things like nutrient transfer; seed dispersal; the stabilizing of creek-banks; the reduction of ‘problem species’; the favouring of desirable species by how we prune, mulch and fertilise; and more….)

In production situations we can additionally manage for:

(Can we improve the “value” of senescent material by crushing it with hoof-impact, thus favouring bacterial/fungal breakdown??? We need to research this! Our cattle seem to be telling us they do not mind eating the stuff when they return after a few months; What else are they telling us? Has the nutritional value improved?)