Why Planned Grazing?

The Blue Head is cross fenced into over 70 pastures ranging in size from 10 acres to almost 3,000
acres and we move our herds through them on a schedule planned far in advance. Currently we have
three main herds of 1,800 to 2,200 head each. Using the principles of Holistic Planned Grazing
developed by Allan Savory we calculate how many pastures each herd will require, how long the rest
period needs to be between grazings for adequate recovery of the grazed plants and how long the
herd needs to spend in each pastures. The ideal (seldom achieved) is for each plant to be either
bitten off once or stepped on by a cow in the brief time the herd is in each pasture. With a grazing
plan written out months in advance and even with the inevitable, minor alterations to the plan we
can know if we will have adequate feed in the event of drought or other circumstances that can affect
a ranch. Knowing how much grass is needed, monitoring how much is growing and being prepared
to re-plan if it becomes obvious that the two aren’t lining up gives a rancher a wonderful peace of
mind. We can predict long in advance if it appears we need to reduce cattle numbers, find more
pasture or take other steps to react to adverse conditions.
In the spring, summer and fall, when conditions allow rapid plant growth we like to aim for a
recovery period of roughly 30 days. In the winter months when growth is slow or nonexistent the
plan calls for 60 days of rest between grazings. For much of the year a herd will spend just one day in
many of the pastures and never more than a few days. Obviously moving that many cows that
frequently keeps our crew working steadily. Hence the 40 head of saddle horses. The cows have
learned well that when a human shows up and opens the gate it means fresh feed and most of them
move to the next pasture on their own but there are usually some stragglers. We ride most every day
to keep those caught up with the main herds.
The connections between healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals that eat those plants and the
health of humans who consume meat from those animals are becoming more obvious as our
understanding of these issues grows. Grass, to be healthy, needs to be grazed. Soil, to be healthy,
needs plants growing in it that are periodically disturbed then allowed to regrow. This graze/rest
cycle stimulates more plant growth which stimulates the growth of bacteria and other microbes that
soil requires to be healthy and alive. Grazing, done correctly, promotes regrowth of forage plants and
the action of hooved animals plants seeds, breaks up capped soils, knocks down standing plant
material so it’s in contact with the ground to break down more readily and allows better moisture
penetration. There is a marvelous symbiosis between large grazing animals and the tiny microbial
creatures that is crucial for the health of the life in the soil that feeds the plants that feed the animals
that feed humans. Our primary goal on the Blue Head is to learn more about those connections and
how to use our livestock as tools that promote ever more healthy soil, plants, animals and people.

Water Quality.

Controversy rages these days over the role of agriculture in the seeming increase in environmental
problems such as red tide, blue green algae and others. I’m not scientist enough to take a position on
either side but I also don’t think there is any doubt that there has been a massive increase in the use
of various chemical concoctions over the past few decades to both combat unwanted plants and
insects and also to augment the growth of plants that are seen as desirable. It seems logical to me to
assume that at least some of those chemicals find their way off the land where they were applied and
into the water, both underground aquifers and surface runoff.
On the Blue Head we don’t use herbicides…period. With some 90+ years collectively of managing
holistically among the Blue Head crew we have seen it proven again and again that that the benefits
of maximum diversity in the plant community far outweigh any slight detriment of the presence of
“weeds” that might be viewed as undesirable. Instead, we concentrate on encouraging the plants we
really like and, over time, again and again, we find those plants increasing and the “burs and
brambles” decreasing.
We don’t use insecticide sprays, rubs, fly tags or any other chemicals on our cattle (I confess to a little
sparing use of fly repellents on ourselves and the horse we ride that day when the flies just become

Why Cracker Cows?

The short answer is: For the African genetics.
To expand on that, we chose to stock the Blue Head almost totally with cattle that can trace their
ancestry back to Africa. Originating in the harsh climate of northern Africa they were taken to Europe by
Moorish invaders in the middle ages and then brought to the New World by the Spanish explorers in the
early 1500’s. From then until around 100 years ago they were virtually the only breed of cattle in Florida
and have adapted to survive, and even thrive, on just what Florida grows. As a product of the
wilderness they do well where more refined, “bred up” cattle have to be pampered.
We wanted cows with a mature body weight in the 800 to 900 lb range, genetically adapted to a
subtropical environment that can thrive with little or no supplementation, able to raise a calf every year
for many years and of Bos Taurus origin. While, in modern times, Bos Indicus (Brahman and Brahman
crosses) have become predominant in Florida we are convinced that to do well with minimal inputs the
tropically adapted Bos Taurus cattle, which includes Crackers, Corrientes and Longhorns, are preferable.
What is today known as the “Cracker” breed is the Florida strain of the cattle of Spanish origin that
includes the “Corriente” of Mexico and the “Longhorn” of the American Southwest. We needed 4,000
head to initially stock the ranch and finding that many Florida Cracker cows that could be purchased
wasn’t going to be possible so we opted to also buy Corriente and Longhorn cows as well as a few
crossbreeds, some with Brahman influence.
Most of our cattle are horned. We find this to be of substantial benefit on the infrequent occasions that
they are in the pens. Two or three times each year we have to put all the cattle through the cowpens
for such activities as to separate the calves from the cows at weaning time, to take the bulls out at the
end of the breeding season or when we brand and vaccinate the calves. We commonly work 2,000 or
more in just a few hours and horned cattle don’t crowd together. Because of the horns they keep plenty
of space around themselves and the stress of being in a small pen or alley is greatly reduced. Polled
(hornless) cattle jam together more closely and suffer more from the heat.
An unexpected trait we’re finding in these cattle is that they tend to spurn the bagged mineral
supplements that most cattle, especially in high rainfall, leached soil environments like Florida tend to
crave and indeed, nearly require to thrive. Our cows were all purchased in September and October of
2015 from all across the southern tier of states, Florida to Texas and as far north as Colorado and
Oklahoma. For a few months they gobbled the mineral mixes we provided about as fast as we could
haul it to them but in the early summer of 2016 they began to leave more and more in the tubs until, by
fall, they completely ignored it. This has continued right up to the present. Initially worried that surely
they must be lacking in at least some of the minerals necessary we have become convinced that they
are finding what they need in the forage they consume. These cows are browsers almost as much as
grazers and eat a little of everything, including many shrubs and forbs normally considered to be toxic to
cattle. They are constantly moving to fresh feed in new pastures. A few are “improved” with near
monocultures of introduced grass species but, more often, have a wide range of native grasses, shrubs,
forbs and trees and apparently our cows are meeting their mineral requirements by eating just enough

of plants that contain what they need. We still offer them some commercial mineral from time to time
but they continue to turn their noses up at it.