Will releasing a pack of hungry wolves on a cattle herd produce better results than the worlds best grazing system?
Planned Grazing is currently the “worlds best grazing system”. It is essentially a management process which attempts to mimic the natural behavior of wild herds when they are being hunted by packs of predators:
Wild herds of herbivores stay closely bunched together to avoid predators. Because they are bunched so closely they trample and defecate all over the ground, which means they cannot return to that same spot for quite some time. So you get a ton of animal impact in a short time… followed by a long period of rest. This cycle of impact, rest, impact, rest is exactly what Planned Grazing imitates.
Planned Grazing uses very intensive human management: lots of fences, watering points, daily herding, planning, etc. This is the only way we can effectively get the impact/rest pattern without the presence of pack-hunting predators constantly pressuring our livestock.
So why not just use the predators? It would save the managers a lot of time and money right?
That is what I thought. But, like many “elegant solutions”, the idea fell short when actually put to the test.
Here is a cost benefit analysis of using Planned Grazing Management versus allowing wild predators to do the management (It is a simplified version of the full cost benefit analysis I did, but the results are just as revealing):
Costs of Planned Grazing Management:
Variables:Time period = 20 years ; Land size = 10,000 acres ; Labor Cost = $10/hour ; Cost to build electric fence = $0.40/ft
Fence cost: $250,000.00
Labor cost: $145,000.00
Total Cost over 20 years: $395,000.00
Cost of Predator-Based Management:
Variables: Time period = 20 years ; Land size = 10,000 acres ; Labor cost = $10/hour ; Livestock killed / year by predators = 200 ;
Death-loss cost: $5,600,000.00
Total Cost over 20 years: $5,600,000.00
Total $ / year / acre spent on Planned Grazing Management = $1.98
Total $ / year / acre spent on Predator-Based Management = $28.00
Keep in mind that there are many unknown variables in this analysis. No one has ever attempted to manage a large number of livestock using only wild predators. However, the results above seem to indicate that, unless there are massive unknown benefits of using the Predator-Based Management system, using Planned Grazing Management is definitely more profitable!