When one thinks about cattle ranching, many tend to think of cowboys hollering on horses with ropes at the ready to herd any unruly cows back to the herd. Maybe that is how it’s done on some cattle ranches, but not on the Oxbow Cattle Ranch, which is a ranch that I had the privilege of visiting during my time at the PEAS Farm. Bart (the mastermind behind the operations) is a humble, intelligent and caring man who has a Wildlife Biology degree, that he chose to put towards raising cattle in a sustainable and low stress way. I chose to write about this man and his ranch because I found his ways of cattle raising so incredibly fascinating that I had to talk about it!
Bart believes that raising cattle needs to be done with integrity for the cows, as well as the land. First of all, he utilizes wildlife friendly fence to aid wild animals in movement across the land. The fence essentially has two barbed wire lines in the center, and just smooth wire on the top and bottom, that can be connected to the center two barbed wires to make it wildlife friendly. The cows can’t get out of the fence and the wildlife can move through with less chances of injuring themselves. It really is a brilliant fence to use in a place such as Montana.
Bart is the man on the left, installing the wildlife friendly fences on his property.
He also does intensive rotations of his cows on his land, so that the cows will not overgraze the areas that they are in. If the cows are in the space for the right amount of time they will eat enough, but not down to the roots, which leads to stress on plants and less vegetation the next year. While in that space for the set amount of time the cows hooves will churn the earth and return organic matter to the soil (through their feces and left behind loose grasses), which leads to a richer soil. The idea is that the vegetation will grow back in more volume the next year, all the while reducing invasive weeds (knapweed). He showed us an example of these, and it was amazing to see the results of sustainable grazing rotations in the works.
The thing that I found to be the most amazing was how he treats his cows. Bart employs a low stress method of herding his cows. He never yells at them, nor slaps or uses a shock rod to get them moving. He explained a way of ‘putting pressure’ on the cows by just taking steps or moving your body in the right way to get them to move in the way that is needed. It was all very technical, and I think that I would have to see it in action to truly understand how it is done. I was so intrigued by this, because I have never heard of any methods life this before.
I was just so impressed with how much time and effort he put into thinking about how to raise these cows. Many people don’t realize that animals can feel things that humans do, and I respect Bart for realizing this and using methods that are low stress on these animals that are living and ultimately dying for our consumption.