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Planned biology creates herd healthPlanned biology creates herd health

Disease is not normally a big factor in the natural model, but we've made it rather common in our business.

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke

August 30, 2017

2 Min Read
When we design herd health programs with long-term success, they will be built around the biology of the ecosystem where we ranch.USDA

Since death is required of all life, I reckon practitioners of biological farming/ranching need to learn a good bit about death and disease.

Disease is not a big part of the natural model, but it is rather common in our business. Disease is the “trouble” produced when a part or organ system becomes less than optimally functional, mostly concerning vital organs and the impairment of performance. Disease is not a necessary part the aging process but can and often does bring on death or premature economic production failure.

Herd health is phrase that has been misused and abused to the point of having little if any meaning. I will define herd health as the planning and execution of the biology, husbandry, nutrition, chemistry, and diseases affecting productivity of a beef production system, with emphasis on the limiting of significant production and profitability losses.

Not everything affecting ranch profitability has to do with herd health and positive biological land practices. It might be good to list in review the major factors that contribute to ranch profitability:

  • Mindset/attitude

  • Growing large amounts of more climax, warm-season forages

  • Increases of soil health, with highly functional water, mineral, energy, and environmental cycles

  • Efficient cattle that fit their environment, and controlled grazing in high densities

  • Grazing the year around

  • Elimination of toys and most equipment

  • Labor efficiency and strategic use of contract labor

  • Stockmanship

  • Extremely low-cost production

  • Good marketing plans and decisions

  • Elimination of drought devastation

  • Elimination of hay making and feeding

  • Forming positive human relationships

It is worth repeating that most herd health problems are caused by management decisions that we or our predecessors made. Many of these practices had a point in time where they were economically feasible.

For example, prior to the technology of low-impedance fence chargers, poly-wire, step-in posts, and lightweight inexpensive reels, high-density grazing on a consistent basis was not likely profitable in North America. Hay making may have been profitable in the 1940s through 1960s and much of the 1970s.

Times have changed. A couple of hundred dollars worth of portable fencing has made it possible to replace hundreds of thousands of dollars in hay making and feeding. The biology of our systems and the health increases of our herds can now go forward.

My 50-year quest involving herd health eventually took me to the soil. The soil took me to life. Biology is the study of life. High degrees of diversity of soil life is profitable and can be very profitable.

When we design herd health programs that are planned and instituted and result in long term success they will be built around the biology (life) of the ecosystem where we are located. Then our job will be to tweak the components of the life in their entirety not to attempt to reduce the dynamics but allow them to wholly flex.

Remember we are taking to market the excess production that our system can quickly remake. Successful herd health operates and functions under this premise.

About the Author(s)

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke


R. P. "Doc" Cooke, DVM, is a mostly retired veterinarian from Sparta, Tennessee. Doc has been in the cattle business since the late 1970s and figures he's driven 800,000 miles, mostly at night, while practicing food animal medicine and surgery in five counties in the Upper Cumberland area of middle Tennessee. He says all those miles schooled him well in "man-made mistakes" and that his age and experiences have allowed him to be mentored by the area’s most fruitful and unfruitful "old timers." Doc believes these relationships provided him unfair advantages in thought and the opportunity to steal others’ ideas and tweak them to fit his operations. Today most of his veterinary work is telephone consultation with graziers in five or six states. He also writes and hosts ranching schools. He is a big believer in having fun while ranching but is serious about business and other producers’ questions. Doc’s operation, 499 Cattle Company, now has an annual stocking rate of about 500 pounds beef per acre of pasture and he grazes 12 months each year with no hay or farm equipment and less than two pounds of daily supplement. You can reach him by cell phone at (931) 256-0928 or at [email protected].

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