Friday, September 6, 2013

Local farmers learn grazing methods from expert

A reindeer frolics while Ben Bartlett and Emma Boone walk the pastures at LARS.
Farmers are learning the nuts and bolts of good grazing practices and low-stress animal handling at UAF’s Robert G. White Large Animal Research Station this weekend.

Ben Bartlett, retired dairy and livestock agent from Michigan State University Extension, is in town to lead the workshop, sponsored by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the UAF Animal Resources Center.“We’re working with farmers who have small livestock to help them maximize small spaces,” said Assistant Professor Jan Rowell. “That’s a good place to start. We want to get people interested and train the trainers, then set up small focal workshops.”

Bartlett said he believes holistic planned grazing can help Alaskans use their resources more wisely and be more successful in livestock operations. “The important thing with grazing is how long the animal stays in one place to graze,” he said. “The quicker the better; that gives the pasture time to rest and grow back.”

Equipping farmers with this kind of knowledge can help increase food security in the state, Bartlett said. “A lot of people are interested in growing food and there is a lot of forage. Let the animals convert the forage to something valuable for people.

“It’s making better use of the land resources.”

Just before heading out for his first try at herding reindeer (he normally works with cattle), Bartlett said he is a strong advocate of low-stress animal handling. “It’s asking animals what you want them to do rather than forcing them. You learn to communicate with them.”

Domestic animals want to do what their caretakers want them to do, Bartlett explained. “You’ve got to learn why animals act like animals.”

Learning these methods can make life less stressful for animals and people. “The feet follow the head,” Bartlett explained. “Get them looking where they want to go.”

For example, people often try to push an animal into a chute, but Bartlett advises standing at the animal’s shoulder, then turn toward its back end and move away.

“I don’t’ want to teach cow whispering, but I do want people to be cow listeners, to be able to communicate,” he said.

Patience is one of the key attributes in animal handling. And special food treats can certainly motivate animals. Bartlett said the reindeer were very tame and that researchers could train the calves to go where they need to go, so they will be agreeable to it when they are adults. “It takes practice but you can teach the young ones to move back and forth without a reason.”

When met with a statement about how much time that would take, Bartlett responded, “We have a saying that the quickest way to get it done is slowly.

“You build relationships and the animals can trust they are not going to have a bad experience.”
Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett used a stick with a water bottle on the end so he appears larger to animals.

Ben Bartlett and Emma Boone at LARS.
Addendum: This will now become a long-term research project on the feasibility of using improved grazing techniques and animal management as it affects potential income and land management. It is tied to a graduate student's research and in a few years it will be obvious at LARS whether the pasture management techniques were successful.

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