Bovine Engineering and Consulting
Gearld Fry 193 Fry Rd. -  Rose Bud, AR   72137

Grass and Genetics
Gaining Peasant Wisdom Through Observation
By Gearld Fry
The ability to gain knowledge and understanding through observation has been called "peasant wisdom." I believe this ability is a God-given gift and talent and is something you either have or you don't.

At the Grass and Genetics School I teach for SGF, I try to teach people to really "see" their cattle. While most people look at their cattle frequently, very few have enough knowledge to really "see" them.

Your animals are talking to you about their fitness, health and well-being every day through their hair coat, body condition and manure.  The creators of most of today's breeds were people trained in ob-servation rather than science. Unfortunately, many people seem to think that this approach won't work today.

Peasant wisdom has been ridiculed by the scientific establishment and yet, we are learning every day that relying entirely on "proven science" can have unforeseen negative consequences in the long-term.

One of the verities of peasant wisdom is that it has normally with-stood the test of time whereas much of our modern "science" hasn't.
For example, how many times in your own lifetime have you seen scientific diet and health "findings" totally turned on their head and the reverse "proven" true.

One day, scientists tell us there is not enough chemical residue in our foods to cause any harm and the very next day other scientists are warning that the chemical residues in human breast milk are now so high as to threaten the baby.

I read recently that 95% of today's human health problems are re-lated to diet and environment. And yet, the idea that we are what the animals we eat eats has yet to register with many scientists.

The bottom line is that we ignore nature at great peril to our health and that of our animals. That's the ultimate peasant wisdom.
For the last 50 years we have been taught that whenever we face an animal health problem the best solution is to go to the chemical closet for a "fix."

Totally overlooked was the fact that the problem was probably caused by our management or should I say, mismanagement.
Before we reach for that needle, we should always first ask our-selves what caused the breakdown in the animal's immune system?

Why is this particular animal sick and others aren't?
Why is this one animal wormy while others grazing in the same pasture are unaffected?
What am I doing to the long-term genetic makeup of my herd by "rescuing" this animal with a drug dose?
What is really causing my animalsí propensity to pinkeye, foot-rot, scours in baby calves, retained placentas and open cows?
Why do we not see many of these health disruptions in wild ani-mals?
Will product-oriented science ever discover this?

Does it even interest them? I doubt it.

Virtually all of our animal health problems are related to our ge-netic selection and our management. In other words to paraphrase Pogo, we have met our animalsí health problems and they are us.  Few of us consider the long-term genetic effects of continually "rescuing" our cattle with drugs and feed inputs.  If you allow a problem animal to stay in your herd and breed, you have just multiplied your future problems.  Nature selects for evermore-healthy animals by letting the weak die before they can breed.
While we donut want to do that, we want to make sure problem animals are culled rather than "rescued" and left in the herd to spread their genetic misery.

The same is true with calves.  A calf that has been seriously sick never ever really gets over it. I warn all grassfed producers to cull these calves at weaning as they will never finish well or make a good eating experience.
For an animal to be an exceptional eating experience it must have been healthy all of its life and have a fully functional glandular system.


Consider that hair and its health and well-being is a window into the health and well-being of the animal as a whole.
Healthy, short hair with a sheen that is oily represents an animal that is healthy inside and whose gland system is functioning properly.
An animal that develops a long, dead, shaggy hair coat for the winter suffers from low glandular function and is not healthy.
You need to pay attention to your animals and be particularly ori-ented to any "unnatural" things you see.
For example, a calf born without a navel cord is not natural. The navel cord is natures way of protecting the calf from bacteria in-vading through the navel.

Don't believe the myth that the cow chewed it off.
You need to watch and make sure calves with a navel cord have dried within two days and is not still wet.
Cows that retain their placentas typically have calves born without navel cords or ones slow to dry. They also donut breed back.

Retained placentas can be largely fixed with a good mineral pro-gram but who is feeding minerals to the animals in nature?
Perhaps, a more lasting solution would be to fix our soil's mineral deficiencies or cull the cow.
Generally, if a problem is with only one animal, culling is the best solution.

Cows that do not have enough nutrition produce weak, sickness-prone calves. Other calf problems are E. coli scours, pneumonia and being generally weak and lethargic for two weeks after calv-ing.
These problems can normally be "fixed" by calving when the grass is surplus.
The majority of our calf health problems occur because of poor nu-trition for their mothers.
Unfortunately, there are some animals in our herds that plentiful grass will not make whole and they must be culled.
In other words, problems that can be fixed with grass and soil fer-tility are not genetic problems but management problems.
Problems that cannot be fixed with grass are genetic problems and can only be fixed by getting rid of the animal.
Seeing a cow with any of the following: a long, shaggy hair coat; long hair on the top of the neck and shoulders; long hair on the udder; a manure-caked tail - particularly at calving, should set off an alarm bell in you.
Cows with any of these visible signs will not produce calves with the performance you need for grass finishing.
A cow that cannot fatten while suckling a calf during the grass lush is a very poor choice for producing a calf that will finish on grass.

If your cows need extra nutrition - or need the calf weaned to gain body condition - this is a sign of a fragile cow and one poorly adapted to grazing.  A well adapted grass cow will need her calf left on her for 10 months to prevent her from becoming overly fat. Why would you want a cow that can only work for six months a year?  A move to grass genetics by changing the body type, structure and size of bull that breeds your cows will put backfat on the calves and increase grass utilization.  While the general management rule has been to cull any open cows, many of us have been blaming the cows for problems that are really in our bulls.

Over the past 30 years, there has been a lowering of standards by seedstock producers that has greatly affected testicle conformation, semen production and semen quality.  If the bull you are using is not testing at a minimum of 75% live sperm cells with a high percentage of the cells showing forward motion (60% or greater) he will leave cows open at the end of the breeding season.  Bulls low in fertility also tend to be low in retail meat cutout. Con-centrating on increasing fertility in your herd "naturally" fixes a lot of other problems.  Will you ever be able to buy in a bull that is perfectly adapted to your ranch's grass and climate? I donut think so but you can create one.

It is time for you to learn how to create your own herd bulls that will do well on the grass of your ranch.
Because that's the ultimate bottom line - grass.

We are in the grass business and not the cattle business. Cattle are just a way of marketing our grass.
Keeping any animals that must be supplemented with grain or res-cued with drugs works against nature and our profitability.
Close observation of our animals combined with "peasant wisdom" gained from nature is the best tool we have to increase their health and our profitability.

I will show you how to "see" your cattle at the SGF Grass and Genetics School in Irving, Texas, September 24 and 25.

Gearld Fry
193 Fry Rd.
Rose Bud, AR   72137
Telephone - (501)-556-5040



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