Barzona Bulletin spring 2019

The Natural Cow – Why We Need Her

By Chip Hines A griculture – both farming and ranching – is facing an upheav- al of the status quo and replac- ing it with lessons learned from nature that brought us to this point. The emphasis on soil health is a vital issue fac- ing agriculture in this country and around the world. Man now has the knowledge to begin regenerating soil health even as more is learned about the process from our successes, failures and ongoing re- search joined with producers willing to apply their private initiative. Ignorance caused the destruction of soil health and made the cow depen- dent on her master. The cow became a target of assumptions based on “big- ger is better” with little practical expe- rience backing the claim. Since the cow is an integral part of regenerating grasslands, she should be of a type that fully complements the program instead of a cow raised in artificial environments. The natural cow will fill that purpose. What is a Natural Cow? A natural cow is one that can survive on a ranch’s existing forage with minimal hay and supplementation, and still main- tain a reasonable breed up. She is a cow that is nearly labor free. A cow that, when combined with proper management, has a yearly cost well below the industry av- erage. How can this be? By fully under- standing the DNA she carries and using it to its full advantage. In the wild, cows were refined by nat- ural selection. Like all wild animals, their only purpose was to survive and repro- duce (unless being prey for a predator is added). Her total DNA package was ded- icated to those two items. Nothing else.

Her DNA was set for light birth weights to ensure both she and her offspring made it through the birthing process. She had low milk production that did not infringe on energy requirements to build fat reserves for breed back. This cow was knowledgeable at selecting a diversity of forages that contained the nutrients and minerals essential for survival. Cattle have sensors in the rumen that detect whether consumed plants contain certain amounts of protein and ener-

natural cow has a DNA base for disease and parasite resistance. High-cost farms and ranches have giv- en their cowherds the best of everything – grass, hay, supplements, minerals etc. This created a cow dependent on a care- taker and one that lived in an artificial environment instead of a natural world. This was compounded by the perfor- mance-era theory that bigger is better. In the seedstock industry, ever larger numbers became the purpose of proving an animal’s worth to the commercial producer. For decades, producers were en- couraged to breed for larger wean- ing weights and carcass qualities. It was an assumption that, since calves were sold by weight, bigger calves would be more profitable. However, as calf weights increase, the profit per pound decreases. Weight-price slide is always present, occasionally severe, and must be part of manage- ment planning. In 1979, 500-pound calves were only bringing about $10 a head more than 400 pounders. What did it cost to put on the extra 100 pounds? The natural cow (1,000-1,100 pounds, low milk production) can produce a 400- to 450-pound calf that sells at or near the top of the price range before the down- ward price slide kicks in. The natural cow is what now would be called a “self-starter.” In other words, “let a cow be a cow!” She knows her job well. Stand back and let her show you. Her yearly cost, with corresponding grazing management, will be dramatically lower than the high-maintenance, dependent cow through lower hay and supplement needs, less labor, improved breed back and fewer parasite chemicals. BB

gy, and indicate palatability. If there is a large selection of forage plants to choose from, the animal can balance out the pro- tein and energy to keep the rumen func- tioning efficiently. Cows also eat some toxic plants, which also are nutritious and may be tap-rooted to bring up minerals from a deeper source for the secondary compounds their systems require for self-medication. If there are sufficient non-toxic plants to mix in with the toxic, the animal is safe. A natural cow has the proper skeletal structure for calving, walking long dis- tances to water and, when attacked, to escape predators. She is a cow that can make it through extended droughts. A

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