Photo of the Week – May 28, 2015

One difference between using cattle grazing and other grassland management options like fire or mowing is that cattle have brains.  They can decide where they want to go (within our fences) and what they want to eat, and their behavior isn’t always completely predictable.   For example, while we know that cattle will spend more time grazing in the burned patch of a prairie than in unburned areas, it’s always interesting to see what plants they decide to graze on or avoid, and how that changes day to day and season to season.  Overall, their unpredictability is a positive for our management because we build it into our plans.

Cattle joining the photographer for lunch  Platte River Prairies.

Curious cattle.  The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies.

Another interesting facet of cattle behavior is their interaction with us when we’re out in the field.  Cattle are often curious and come to investigate what we’re up to – probably because they’re hoping we have something fun to eat with us.  I did some plant community monitoring this week and the cattle in that prairie tagged along for a while.

Hey, what's for lunch?

“Hey, what’s for lunch?  Also, what’s that white thing?  Does it taste good?  Can I lick it?”

They ignored me all morning, but when I stopped to eat my peanut butter sandwich, the cattle happened to be coming to get water nearby, so they checked up on me.  When I finished my lunch and started walking transects again, they followed along just to make sure I wasn’t doing anything that concerned them.  (I wasn’t.)

Vegetation monitoring

Vegetation monitoring with an audience.  Counting species within a plot frame has a different vibe when you’re being watched.

Eventually, they apparently got bored (or hungry) and wandered off, leaving me to work alone.  By myself.

Sigh.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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8 Responses to Photo of the Week – May 28, 2015

  1. Karen Hamburger says:

    Maybe you should have shared your sandwich! :)

  2. mark nupen says:

    Uh, these photos look more like a gang threat to me. Good luck! I once visited a friend in Montana who liked to practice his bagpipe music but of course had to be outside. His property adjoined a large field, and within minutes every black angus cow in that field stampeded the fence and literally stood shoulder to shoulder, heads up and ears pointed to the music. How could we have predicted what cattle are curious about. Beats me????

  3. anastaciast says:

    I think you need to carry cow cookies with you from now on. As for Mark’s bagpipe story: well of course ANGUS cattle would want to hear it. :) Me, too.

  4. marilyn faulk lanser says:

    Such curious animals! Thanks for sharing your insight/observations about prairie management. I’ve learned much from your posts.

  5. Don YOung says:

    Chris—I’m looking for a recent blog where you compared mountains to prairies and how prairies are meant to be observed up close. Will you please direct me to that post? Thanks a mil!

  6. chris muldoon says:

    Geez! No wonder you have what appears to be a fan club. Your posts are so varied: They can be educational, provocative, interesting, informative, and certainly amusing. You’ve got a lot of talents, buddy!

  7. jimfetig says:

    I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail last year. The trail easement occasionally passes through or along side cow pastures where the cows exhibited similar behavior. I always worried about encountering a bull. Fortunately that never happened.

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