Saturday, February 14, 2015

Herding Cultures

While today is Saturday (a day off for most), I went in to my new job to help move 300+ heifers into fresh pasture (complete with bulls!) this morning.  Ranching, even on a university research station, is rarely a 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday job - the heifers needed fresh feed TODAY!  With four of us horseback (and two of us with dogs), and the rest of the crew on ATVs, the 3-mile drive went smoothly.  After finishing my "paying" job, I came home and set up fence for the sheep.  I realized as I was working this afternoon that traditional herding cultures - shepherding, cowboying, etc. - are extremely appealing to me.

These traditions require practitioners to live extremely close to nature.  By necessity, we must watch the health of the land and of our animals.  If the grass is too short, the animals need to move.  If the animals are in need, we must care for them.  If the rains don't come, we must adjust our management.

In our own sheep operation, and in my new job, I've embraced modern technology.  I have an iPhone.  I'm writing this piece on my iPad.  I use a laptop computer.  All of these have made my job as a stockman and a grazier more efficient and effective.  But I've also embraced traditional tools.  Without my dogs and without my desire to understand livestock behavior, I couldn't manage rangeland.  Without the horse that I ride at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, I couldn't get a true picture of rangeland condition and forage growth.  Many of the physical (as opposed to virtual) tools and techniques that I use are hundreds (if not thousands) of years old.

As we completed our mini cattle drive this morning, I was able to talk stock dogs with one of the riders who joined us.  My dogs are used to working sheep, but we're learning how to transition to cattle.  I realized, as we rode and talked, that I have a lifetime of knowledge to gain about my profession.  I'm thankful that there are still people to learn from!  I'm thankful to be part of a herding culture!

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