Mentorship, and pasture tips and tricks

The Guardian Pig

Years ago I was a young producer very interested in grazing. I was very eager to learn and went to every conference and seminar that I could find. I attended private industry agricultural schools and gained a lot of knowledge from books and magazines that I read. I had a passion. I now realize that if you can find something you are passionate about, figure out how to make it your business and you will never have to work a day in your life.

During my quest for education, I had a lot of mentors close by who helped me along the way. Names like Don Campbell, Dennis Wobeser, and Kelly Sidoryk come to mind, to name a few. These and many other mentors had a big influence on my education. I was the annoying young producer always pestering them with questions at seminars.

Back in 2001, I met up with the manager of the Alberta Forage Council, in the lounge, after a grazing conference and found out they were introducing the “Sustainable Grazing Mentorship Program.” Next thing I know, I was a mentor. Wow, really. I can help others learn about what I love doing? It was great. I enjoyed being a mentor. It was kind of a payback for all the mentoring I had received. I recall that at the time it had been debated whether we should be called mentors or consultants. One mentor at the meeting presented the argument that a consultant is like a person who knows 101 ways to make love, but is still a virgin! So it was unanimous and I was proud to be called a mentor!

It is a shame that program shut down a few years ago. It was a great opportunity for young producers to gain some valuable real-life education. I have never stopped mentoring though. Recently I was asked to mentor a young producer through the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program (CYL). I spent a year mentoring a very eager young fellow from Manitoba. He is a grazing geek just like I was, very passionate about what he is learning. I am honoured to be considered a mentor by young producers like him and very happy to help out in any way that I can. I have also helped many other producers with little tricks and tips that I have picked up or discovered along the way.

In a recent conversation with another young grazing geek, I thought a few of these little tips and tricks I was sharing with him might be good to share in an article. I hope you can use something here to help fulfil your passion.

1. My Guardian Pig

This is a trick at calving/kidding/lambing time (see photo at top of page) to help protect your livestock from predators such as coyotes or wolves. You need to have an electric fence of some kind around the perimeter of your calving/kidding/lambing area. Turn off your fencer. Walk around the perimeter and wrap individual pieces of bacon around the hot wire. I place mine every 100 yards. Turn your fencer back on. The existing predators soon learn that this area is not a desirable place to be even though it smells good. I like at least 7 Kv. This trains them to stay away. If we just remove the predator, this opens up a vacancy allowing new predators to arrive, thus only addressing a symptom that will return. The guardian pig addresses a problem by training existing predators, which keeps other predators out of the area. Problem solved.

2. My Electric Bale Truck

In our world of sustainable agriculture, I think it is important that every cattleman has an electric pickup. No I don’t have to plug it in every night. I am referring to the sustainability of the pickup. There is nothing more frustrating than jumping out to check a calf or a fence, and coming back to find the cattle using your pickup as a scratching post. I have had my share of broken signal lights and busted mirrors. So here is a simple trick.

Whenever you park your pickup in the pasture with cattle around, back it into an electric fence. As your truck sits on rubber tires, it has no effect. Only when your livestock (or yourself) touches the truck will it give a shock. This trains my cows not to rub on my truck no matter where it is. Soon, it won’t matter if it’s electric or not, they won’t rub on it. I just have to be careful getting in or out. Plastic door handles are great but if you don’t have them, simply leave your door open and enter and exit with a bounce in your step.

3. The Hammer Trick

I use a simple claw hammer to splice a piece of wire into a barbed wire fence to repair or tighten it. It is an easy fix if you know how, but does take some practice to get the hang of it. Splice in the wire by hand by creating four loops. Make sure the loops are all made just past a barb. This allows you to tighten on all four loops if need be. On the last loop, attach the hammer to the wire and spin it underneath the opposite loop. As you spin the wire around the hammer head, the wire pulls through the loop and tightens. When the wire is as tight as you want, with some back pressure, unwrap the wire from the hammer head without allowing the wire to slip. My favourite wire to splice with is single-strand barbed wire as it allows the barbs to slide as you tighten. A video of this is on my Facebook page if you like this idea.

4. The Offset

The Offset
The Offset photo: Steve Kenyon

Here is a cheap and very reliable fencing trick for putting an offset electric wire on an existing fence. Use an old three-quarter-inch waterline or black poly pipe. Cut it into 1-1/2-foot sections and bend it in the middle. I always flatten and start the staples on a solid surface to make it easier. Staple the bottom of the pipe to the post, place the offset wire in the elbow and bend the hose to the post and staple the top. The bend should pinch the wire but a nail run through the elbow will make sure the wire does not slip back towards the post. Very cheap and lasts for years.

5. The Calf Sled

The Calf Sled
The Calf Sled photo: Steve Kenyon

This is a bottom-heavy sled with a rubber sling in place to hold the calf in an upright position. I calve on pasture in May and I like to sort off the pairs from the bred cows as they calve to take them to pasture. The calf sled is the easiest way I have found to sort without stressing the whole herd. I try to tag as soon as I know the calf has received its colostrum and the pair has mothered up. Preferably within the first 12 to 24 hours. I’ll catch, tag the calf and then place it in the calf sled, which is towed behind my quad with about 30 feet of rope. A cow will lose sight of its calf if you pick it up and try to move it with a quad. The cow won’t follow just the quad. In the calf sled, the calf still looks like it is standing and walking. I allow a minute or two so that the cow knows where her calf is, and then I slowly tow the calf into another pasture. Ninety-five per cent of the time the cow will follow along behind. You might need a small pen in between the pastures as well to prevent other cows from following. Bred cows can be curious.

6. The Raptor Perch

The Raptor Perch
The Raptor Perch photo: Steve Kenyon

This is a tool to naturally control gophers. It is simply a post pounded into the ground in a gopher-infested field. Attach a long 2×4 to it with a short 2×2 “T” at the top. This gives the predatory birds a place to sit and wait with a quick easy swoop down for a meal. It has been very effective on my ranch. The bigger the gopher patch the more raptor perches you might need.

I hope you have enjoyed a few of my tips and tricks around the farm. These are just a few ideas I could share. Your farm is different than mine. My suggestion is to take an idea and adapt it to your area, on your farm, in your situation.

Best wishes and God Bless!

About the author


Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd. in Busby, Alta. You can email him at [email protected] or call 780-307-6500.

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