e64. Managing for Wildlife while Grazing Cattle with Hunter Lehman

In this podcast episode, Hunter Lehman, explores the potential of sustainable farming and modern grazing techniques. He discusses the importance of balancing wildlife and cattle grazing, and how innovative tools like virtual fencing can revolutionize land management. His approach, which includes a GPS-based cattle control system, offers a radical shift from traditional systems and provides numerous benefits to both cattle and the environment. The conversation also delves into the potential of GPS technology in cattle management, including the creation of heat maps for herd movement, offering farmers unprecedented control over their livestock. This episode provides valuable insights into the future of sustainable farming and humane cattle management.

Books/Resources Mentioned:

Man, Cattle, and Veld by Johann Zietsmann (Amazon) (Bookshop)

Social media:
Website: https://www.lehmanlc.com/
Facebook: Lehman Land & Cattle
Instagram: @hunter.lehman


These transcriptions are automatically generated. Please excuse any errors in the text.

0:00:00 – Cal Hardage
Welcome to the Grazing Grass Podcast, episode 64.

0:00:05 – Hunter Lehman
Start. even if it’s small, it gives you the confidence to go on and do some bigger things.

0:00:09 – Cal Hardage
You’re listening to the Grazing Grass Podcast, helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers, and every episode features a grass farmer and their operation. I’m your host, cal Hardeech. On today’s episode we have Hunter Lehman and we are going to talk about managing for wildlife and grazing cattle. I think that’s a hot topic for me. On leasing land, that’s always a concern because mainly I lease land from hunters.

So excellent conversation today, and then for the overgrazing section we dive into virtual fencing, which is something that has intrigued me for a while. You definitely want to catch that. Before we talk to Hunter, a couple things here. Here, rather than my farm, we’ll talk about the podcast for just a moment. Last week we created the grazing grass community. Actually, we didn’t create it, we just moved it. We moved it from its old home over to Facebook And the response has been tremendous And if you have not joined, i suggest you going on Facebook searching for the grazing grass community and joining us. We look forward to seeing you there This week. We’d like to announce we are starting a Patreon. Now. We’re just getting it set up, getting things figured out on it, but I just wanted to keep you in the loop and let you know what we’re doing. We have some ideas about some episodes to release over there. They won’t take away from what we’re doing here at the Grazing Grass Podcast, but they will add to it. For instance, we’re talking about Round Table Episode and some other episodes as we get going. Also along that line of supporting the podcast.

I would like to thank Jared, samuel and Cassandra for purchasing merch. Wear that grazing grass merch with pride If you post a picture online of you wearing your grazing grass merch tag us in it. Love to see it. And then the review for this week is from Mike79Vet, my new favorite Great information from people who aren’t just all about their masters and PhD degrees. I encourage you to go to wherever you, listen to podcasts and leave us a review. It helps get the word out about the podcast. We appreciate every one of you. Thank you, and let’s talk to Hunter. Hunter, we want to welcome you to the Grazing Grass Podcast. Thank you, cal, i appreciate the opportunity a lot.

0:02:44 – Hunter Lehman
I found my passion for grass and cattle and range management through passion for wildlife first, so that’s what I went to school for. That was my day job here is I run a hunting ranch for an absentee landowner. It’s pretty common in Texas. For your listeners that aren’t familiar with Texas, 98% of it is privately owned, so if you want to hunt you have to know somebody own land or lease the hunting rights, and so a lot of people there’s a lot of guys out there on leases that dream of owning their own place one day, and some of them are successful enough to do it, and so I work for one of those guys and he made a bunch of money and got to buy his dream place And so it’s pretty cool day job.

I went to school and majored in range and wildlife management. They’ve made me take the range classes. I just wanted to learn about deer and quail And by the end of it I was drinking coffee through the deer classes and on the edge of my seat in the range classes and found this passion for grazing And once I learned what can be done with it, i always thought, like most deer hunters in Texas think cattle are terrible for wildlife habitat. It’s like necessary evil, but it’s the opposite of that. You cannot manage wildlife habitat without room in an animals, and so by day job is running this place as a hunting property. But my wife and I get to lease the grazing rights from the owner And so it’s a pretty sweet gig. We get to lease the place we live and work on and it works out really well. But the only reason I have that opportunity is because I’m the only guy willing to put habitat management first And we still have to make money. If we’re not making money, we’re not going to do it, you know. But the first thing is taking care of the wildlife habitat, getting the wildlife habitat improvement that we need out of the cattle grazing And then doing that in a way that doesn’t interfere with the recreation. And that’s led us to the virtual fencing. Because if the owner’s out on a sunset booze cruise with his buddies and he’s got to get stop and get out to get a spring gate and he’s scared of getting shocked, he’s not happy. And so we started with polywire. We dang sure weren’t going to do too much barb wire. We have a little bit of a barb wire backbone, but we couldn’t cut the place up with ton of fencing And then started with polywire and we were getting a little bit of pushback, didn’t want to go around the electric fence and was scared to go through, kind of, and it was just a pain. And so we’re willing to graze with wildlife at the forefront And also in a way that gets that stays out of the way of the recreation. That’s a huge thing for the landowner And it’s his place, he wants to be able to enjoy it. We have to factor that in Our rotations and our management is hey, we got a big deer hunt this weekend And we got to put them somewhere where there’s not a deer stand or stuff like that. That adds some interesting elements to it. But that’s kind of our situation here.

And then I guess a little bit about the landscape. We’re in the South Texas brush country. If you draw a line from San Antonio West to Del Rio and Southeast to Corpus, everything south of that kind of like that triangle at the bottom of the state is the brush country. But it wasn’t always brush. There were bison here in 1828. And that was towards the end of Mexican land grants. Texas won its independence in 1836. So there were settlers from the East coming in and signing on to be Mexican citizens and taking land grants. Well, there was still bison here And the thought of bison being here can’t even really fathom it, because most of this brush is like you can’t walk through. Some of it You can get through hands and knees, but a lot of it you can’t get through hands and knees because it’s prickly pear cactus on the floor. So the thought of this being bison country is just crazy And kind of was a slow change really not that long ago.

There’s a lot of landowners around here, like old-timer guys that grew up here that have told me about like. He might have been being a little hyperbolic, but he said the most open place in the county today would have been the brushes place in the county when he was a kid They would go help gather something somewhere and you would complain, oh, i don’t want to go out there, that place is so dang brushy And he was like I would just love to gather on that place today. You know that, and so that’s happened. In his lifetime He’s seen the brush encroachment And where the brush encroachment started was, you know, getting away from nature’s management of the savannah. You know the way God set it up was thick brush along the right-pairing zones And on the uplands was a savannah, the deer on the close to those riparian zones, using that edge habitat and the, you know, upland birds and bison, and pronghorn up on the uplands And that was maintained by curd effect, you know, trampling from the bison and fire.

So what do we do? when we settle that we build barbed wire fences and set stocking, moderate stocking rate, understocked and overgrazed, and fire suppression and got rid of the bison. And so, you know, just like a lot of the world, instead of us losing, like the planes lost, their diversity in their grasses, they’d move from tall grasses to shorter grasses. We got brush. That’s what happened in this, you know, in this part of the world. And so, like in the 40s, 50s, 60s, everybody saw we have too much brush, so let’s tie an anchor chain between two dozers and take off and rip it all out. The unintended consequence of that was the stuff that comes back is not the, the biodiverse, natural, occurring brush. It’s the stuff that’s best at responding to disturbance. So here that’s prickly pear, cactus and mesquite And that’s all we have.

These guys, these absentee landowners, they come down here and they buy. You know they think this part of the world is where all the boon and crocket bucks come out of. In Texas, you know East Texas will produce a few, but the big bucks come from South Texas. And so they think, oh man, i’m going to go buy a brushy place and there’s boon and crocket deer hiding behind every mesquite tree. They just don’t know. They’re not biologists and the real estate agents are either just as ignorant or they’re lying. You know probably both. But it’s not good deer habitat but they’re buying it just because they think brush. So what we’re trying to do is get back to a little bit of savanna with the diverse brush on the riparian areas. But this is a hunting place first and foremost, so we don’t want to go straight savanna We want. What we were trying to create is that edge habitat of between the diverse brush that was on the riparian zones with that savanna and kind of a mix of it, and that’s where we’re going to get the biggest bang for our buck. On the deer, turkey and quail, which is the species that the landowner likes to shoot the most.

We’ve done a lot of spraying, aerial spraying with a fixed wind, kind of a checkerboard pattern targeting mesquite, and then we sprayed some big blocks targeting the prickly pear, and the coolest thing about that was is the response that we got from the Layton seed bank that was there from 200 years ago. We didn’t plant a seed, and in the first year we had seven native grasses come up where we sprayed the prickly pear, and the second year we were over 10 native grasses. Obviously that’s going to plateau, but super cool. The seeds were just waiting for an opportunity and as soon as that pear got out of their way, they got a little water, got a little sunlight and just took off, and so it’s really cool and that’s where the cattle come in.

Now we come in with the cattle because a thick thatch of grass is no better for a deer than the prickly pear was, and so we need that nutrient cycling, we need the herd effect, we need to build some soil microbiology, because there’s no soil microbes underneath pear. We got some roots going, we got some infiltration happening, we got some herd effect on it and we create some forb opportunities, which is that the forbs are what moves the needle for deer the most. They love brows, they love the brush, but if you can get some forbs going and you’re not going to grow a forb and a patch of prickly pear. So that’s where the cattle come in. Is, the side effect of all that spraying is a whole bunch of grass, and so we use the cattle to manage that grass so that the quail can get in there and utilize those areas, so the deer can lay a fawn down and things like that.

0:10:23 – Cal Hardage
So a lot of areas in Oklahoma. I’m in northeast Oklahoma so I’m quite a bit north of you when you consider how far south you are. We don’t have to worry about Mesquite, but it’s honey locusts that takes over places. Sure, it’s got its good qualities but it’s the bane of a lot of farmers existence around here. We have a lot of people. We’re an hour from Tulsa So a lot of land purchased here are by land owners or purchasers in Tulsa that they purchase them so they can hunt here.

And the biggest issue I have to getting lease land. Either someone’s grazing cattle because the landowners not really they’re not a hunter, they just have to land and someone’s already got lease, or it’s a hunter and they don’t want cattle on their land That misconception that you brought up. I mean permery eights up here as well. I have one piece of land because the owner has it just for honey, doesn’t want cattle on it, but he’s let me lease it because he’s leases one of the properties I have for honey. So he’s seen my management and he’s let me over there now.

But you mentioned something about polywire. I put that polywire on that lease property that he has, the he hunts on and the way the road goes in there. It’s a 80, half mile wide or a quarter wide, half deep. So there’s a road that goes back to his deer stand And I know when I’m on the north edge of that I got to be careful about my polywire And I try and put temp or those step in post right in the middle of the road and they’re white So he sees them, because he’s drove through my polywire multiple times. Even when I think I’ve got it visible, it has not worked. So you know there are some pain points there that I hope we cover a little bit more later. I saw a lot of parallels, i saw a lot of things that’s happening there, that’s happening elsewhere And I’m sure it’s affecting a lot of our listeners as well. One thing So you went to school for range and wildlife management And you got that job, rob. What made you start thinking about the grazing aspect of it?

0:12:34 – Hunter Lehman
I had a great professor’s named Poncho Ortega. He’s from Mexico, got his doctorate degree in Florida University of Florida And he’s been at the Cesar Claiborgue Wildlife Research Institute for a long time. I think he’s semi on his way out, kind of retiring, and I was fortunate enough to catch him And so he was a professor a couple of my classes and he’s a cowboy. He loves cattle, you know wildlife research sciences, but everything he does is you know how can we do better at grazing? He does a lot of stuff with patch burning on you know invasives and grazing after a burn and stuff like that. And his passion kind of wore off on me And I think he kind of there’s a lot of us guys there that you know we’re just didn’t know anything about ag, we’re just deer hunters Or like man, you know, somebody’s going to let me live on a $12 million range for free and pay me. You know, don’t tell him I did for free but I would. So there’s a lot of that there And I think he kind of had a you know vendetta. he wanted to make sure we understood that cattle were not bad, and so that led me to down the classic route that you know.

I’m just about everybody that I hear on your podcast, alan Savry, ted Talk or something, or Greg G on YouTube or something like that And I think holy cow. And I’m also kind of a contrarian. I like to be the weird guy and I certainly am the weird guy around here. I’ve got a friend and a neighbor that’s doing run as a polywire now and I were the only two in the county and Probably the only two that they’ve even heard of it. you know, have neighbors call them We’re on the fence line, what’s that string? you got up there, you know, and so I think some of that. you know one like there’s got to be a better way. and then two generations From the last agriculturalists in our family and I was told we’re still help holding on to some small piece of the old farm and stuff, you know, and I was told my kind of my whole life like well, that farm and you know There’s no retirement and farm in it, and so I kind of got there’s got to be a way to I mean somebody’s making money, you know, and so down the regenerative road and I kind of just ate that up.

You know I’d binge watch Greg Judy for like a year red, you know, just, i never was a reader. I mean, I’ve been finished two books in my life and I read, you know, probably at least it does it in the first year when I got on this track And so I just found something I was fired up about, and then it just took off from there And then I started, you know, making the connection from everywhere else to here and thinking about what that means for deer habitat And quail habitat, and that was my first love. but I have to give the credit, the original credit, to poncho. He’s the one that kind of. I was Reluctantly walking into that auditorium and he he straightened me out on the first day.

0:15:00 – Cal Hardage
So so you’d convinced yourself. You have this job now you you’ve got to convince this landowner that grazing cattle is good for his hunting.

0:15:10 – Hunter Lehman
Yes sir, and that took me almost four years, three, three years and change of conversations to change his mind, because I’m sure you see it up there too. What’s really common is these guys are on the least place and They, you know, they don’t get to go out there. Very often They show up to hunt and it’s breaking daylight and what’s that? on the ground? all man, it’s my deer feeder, those damn cows, you know. And they swear if I ever can own my own place, i’ll never have a cow on it. And it takes a lot to convince those guys.

The landowner here, super smart guy. He built a massive business in 30 years. He started when he was 30 with basically nothing and built a huge business is extremely successful, very smart guy. But He knows that he’s ignorant to this stuff and it takes a lot for a guy that’s been that successful to be humble enough to say Here’s the reins, you’re the one that knows this stuff. Go, you know, do what you think.

There’s still some sticking points here and there, you know, especially when we get in the way of the recreation. We’re still trying to work that out. But I have to hand it to him like it did. Take me three and a half years to convince him. But he’s always been very, you know, open to hearing what he doesn’t know and being able to admit That he doesn’t know, and that’s not common. You know, these guys that have been so successful, they’re surrounded by yes men and It’s hard to get them to admit that they don’t know something, and so, yeah, i have to give him a lot of credit for that and being willing to listen. And then Eventually, you know, i get on my soapbox talking about this stuff and I get all excited and he just says do what you want. And so that’s kind of how it went.

0:16:42 – Cal Hardage
Did you have the knowledge and you shared that with him and you had passion there, which always rubs off on others. But you’re building that relationship him with him as well. So if he didn’t trust you with what you were doing there, he’d still be like that sounds good, but I’m not quite ready. So all those factors together really brought you to that point. And it takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight.

0:17:07 – Hunter Lehman
I’m just a little bit older than his oldest daughter. I’m a kid to him and so it’s a really a lot to you know, take the advice of a kid. I think that’s why it took three years. It’s just I had to kind of prove myself. Maybe I you know, he saw me do well and other things Okay, this guy’s not an idiot Maybe.

0:17:23 – Cal Hardage
Maybe he’s right about that too when he said okay, go, try it. What did you do?

0:17:28 – Hunter Lehman
We started with a completely solid prickly pear understory and mesquite on top. So a hundred percent canopy cover, mesquite and Basically solid prickly pear on the bottom. And so this is a screenshot off of our Facebook page Lehman land and cattle on Facebook. Just nothing but prickly pear. Cactus can’t walk through, a dog can’t even get through it, and So a tracking deer when when our guys make terrible shots is really not fun through there. But we came in and spurt, targeting the mesquite with a checkerboard pattern, and then we came in and targeted the pear kind of in blocks and Let’s pull up that spraying deal and Hopefully this works. So. So this is what we sprayed for mesquite Oh, okay, kind of a checkerboard deal, and then we sprayed kind of big, these big sections for prickly pear, and so we what we’re trying to create is that mosaic, that kind of that edge effect between The savanna and the thick brush, and so that’s what we were working with when we started is that solid pear and Guys down here It’s really common They burn the spines off the pear and drought and because you’re out of grass You’re not gonna start a fire anyway, so they burn the spines off the pear and the cattle is actually a little bit addictive, and so the cattle really like it.

If you supplement a little protein they’ll do okay on it. But you’re not gonna get out there on 2700 acres of that stuff and burn it. So we kind of had to start stock it slowly, and so we did. There’s a lot of money to do all that spray in, and so We started small. We did a 300 acre trial run and so when we stocked it That’s all that we grazed, because other than that, i mean they could walk down the roads on the side of the roads and graze, but they’re gonna hit a wall up rush Right off the roads, and so place was pretty ungrazeable. When we started We had 300 acres that, and we had to kind of be gentle with it because this first time You know all brand new plants and we’re trying to develop a root system on them, and so we kind of had to, you know, kind of take the tops and be pretty selective and move off.

And so we started with 14 cows, coriini cows and which are I’ve heard you talk about Coriini’s other folks on here But they’re gaining in popularity. Unfortunately We didn’t. We talked about them too much. Now Everybody realizes the value I had people, even our, in our CS agent. She’s come around now. She’s been a big help for us and we love her.

She doubted me and she might not admit it, but she did doubt me. She said you’re not gonna keep Coriini’s in with it, that little string, there’s no way. You know maybe something else, but they’re gonna figure out how to use her horns or they’re gonna jump it. You know if a barb, where a fence can’t keep them in, gonna keep them in with polywire? And I called her about a month into it We had made like three or four moves and I said I think it’s gonna work. You know we haven’t had any get out and so that worked with 14 head and, and so it was like a little bit of a Introduction for it.

And so then we did some more spring misty year on our spraying because the conditions weren’t right. We did a little bit more spraying, we increased at the next year to 50 and now we’ve four out of 100. If we get any kind of rain at all, we probably should have closer to 200, but we’re just trying to be gentle on that new grass, let it establish a root system and stuff like that. So so we’ve, you know, from 14 to 100 is a big jump for him. I think he was a little nervous for going 50 to 100. He was like, oh, it’s just getting real now There’s more than one truck coming and so we’ve been doing stalker cows and, you know, just taking bread cows and making pears, or taking open cows and making breads and buying them a little thin and kind of fixing them up, you know kind of deal, and so yeah, but to answer your question, that was a long answer to your short question but we started with those 14 Corini’s on our trial piece and he got to say Okay, they’re not out, they’re not eating my dear in my dear feeders.

You know he’s controlling them. And then he’s able to, i’m able to take him out there and showing, even though I kind of think I had to dragging you know, like a kid to church, i and say you know like, look at this manure, look at these dung beetles, look at. And I think he just kind of nodded to appease me and went on, but it just proved to him, okay, this is not gonna be a total disaster, it’s been a blessing and the land has become more and more grazeable slowly due to our. You know more and more spraying we’ve done And you know getting those grass communities going, that we’ve been forced to be slow and how we stock it. I think that’s kept him comfortable with it, you know.

0:21:40 – Cal Hardage
I imagine so. When you’re talking about that checkerboard pattern that you sprayed, how wide of area did you spray to create that edge habitat right there?

0:21:49 – Hunter Lehman
Those are. Each of those strips are 300 feet. If we stack them at 100 yards, that creates 100 yard, or 100 yard by 100 yard. Blocks of brush that we didn’t spray.

0:21:59 – Cal Hardage
So you’ve got that 100 yards that you went in and sprayed, you’ve got this new grass coming up and you’re using the grazing on there. Are you allowing some brushy growth to happen there, or what are you managing for in those areas, those zones?

0:22:17 – Hunter Lehman
Yes, sir, If we got to the densities that we would want to get to, maybe we would herd some of those new seedlings of brush. But because of infrastructure and the way the virtual fencing works so we can get into that we can’t really get them as tight. Oh yeah, Even if we were using polywire still just a place to run the polywire We have to go in there and clear mechanically clear stuff to the ground so that we could run the polywire through there. That’s what we have to run it all on roads and stuff, And so we can’t get the densities tight enough to herd any of that woody vegetation. But our goal is to have a robust enough perennial grass population that where there’s some brush, encroachment can happen.

But we’re going to graze better than this place was grazed in the past And so we’re going to get there, we’re going to take the grass off and get off And that will keep that brush encroachment at bay. But we want a little bit of brush encroachment because what’s going to come up is a mixed community, now that the mesquite and the prickly pear aren’t choking those out, And so when we get some of that diverse brush back, we want some of that because that’s great deer forage, And so it’s that diverse brush, just like on the grasslands. You want a diverse mix. What grows big deer is diverse brush, And so, due to our spraying, we’re going to get some brush coming too, And that’s okay. In 10 or 15 years we might have to revisit it. You know, go in and do some grubbing or something and kind of maintain the savanna.

0:23:41 – Cal Hardage
So when you think about this and you can correct me if I’m wrong you’ve got that denser area and that’s where the deer can retreat to. But then when they’re out browsing they can come to that edge and they’ve got multiple levels of forage there for them.

0:23:58 – Hunter Lehman
Yes, sir, they need to feel hidden, to feel safe. Shade is very important. You know it’s the month of June was measurable We had 14 days in a row over 110. And so that’s very important. And edge is huge because a lot of that stuff there’s so thick, it’s not that a deer couldn’t get to the middle of it. They could their streamline and they’re tougher than we are, but they just wouldn’t. You know why would I fight through all that brush when there’s stuff I can browse here? So, similar to the set stocking, you know, at a light stocking rate deal with cattle, we were over browsing stuff close to the cinderos in the roads and under browsing the stuff in the middle, just because it’s too much work to fight and to get all the way up in there By killing a bunch of brush. We’ve actually increased our available browse to the deer because they can get to the whole place now.

0:24:46 – Cal Hardage
When did you start this process of spraying in this transition?

0:24:51 – Hunter Lehman

  1. February of 2020 was our first treatment. That was our trial run, our last. We sprayed our last batch of pear in the February of this year And we sprayed the pear in the winter so that we don’t kill the brush on top. We’re targeting just pear taking up through the leaves so we can get it to the bottom, to the pear, without killing the stuff on top. We probably have half the production that we’re going to have in the next couple of years. We’re on stuff now that was sprayed for Mespeak, but it just got sprayed for pear earlier this year, so there’s a lot of dead pear out there And it’s really it’s kind of like natural fencing. We don’t have to be as good at grazers this year because there’s still having to. There’s a lot of grass coming up through a lot of pear spines And so they don’t graze too severely, even if we wanted them to. That pear will lay down next year and we’ll get a lot more forage production. On the herbaceous stuff.

0:25:44 – Cal Hardage
Have you already noticed a change in the wildlife in that are there more deer on there because you’ve got more edge?

0:25:51 – Hunter Lehman
habitat. The deer are kind of a long-term play. They raise one baby a year and changes in deer populations happen by generation like every seven years. You know is when you kind of see changes, like when this year’s fawns have a fawn and that fawn grows up to be a mature buck, that’s when we will see the big changes in the deer And we are real specific about where our population stays. On the deer. We keep them at the right, we have them where we want them and we maintain that population size with a rifle.

But where we see the fast changes in the quail, they’re a really short-lived, you know high production, high death loss kind of population And so we can see changes happen right away on the quail. That’s really exciting. We’re seeing way more cubbies this year. We are seeing multiple hatches and we only have four and a half inches this year so far. This year average 18 a year. So we’re short on range but we’re seeing multiple hatches of quail.

I have two different sized quail chicks that we’re seeing And just about every mated pair I see has chicks with them, which is unusual in such a dry year. And that could be because we got the rain at the right time It came in April and that’s kind of April is really. As far. As for both quail and deer, april is really our turning point if we get moisture then. But I think it’s got to have something to do with there being some grass out there. I mean quail, mature quail, live on herbaceous leaves and seeds. What species of quail do you have there? Bob, whites and scaled. We don’t have as many scaled quail. They like a front habitat type and we’ve only got about 400 acres of that out of 2700.

0:27:24 – Cal Hardage
They’re kind of confined to that corner but it’s pretty cool to see them, which we have Bob white here And as far as I know, that’s the only species we have in this area. But I love seeing those Bob white out there. Now, as you did this and you brought in crazy animals, that the issue everyone struggles with. It doesn’t matter if we’re dealing with brush and trying to change that habitat some or what we’re trying to do. Water is a limiting factor. How are you handling water?

0:27:53 – Hunter Lehman
The distribution was pretty good because the previous owner owner I worked for bought this place five years ago and I came six months later And the previous owner was his son, was a wildlife photographer and they put birdbaths all over the ranch And so the distribution was really good. But the capacity was terrible. The you know there’s three quarter inch lines going like half a mile in places, And so it was cause it’s just a birdbath, Why am I gonna spend the money on a three inch or four inch line? So we’re battling that. We put in some storage, we put in some pumps, We have several ponds and you know absentee landowners love a pond even though it’s a tremendous waste of water when you live in the desert, you know.

So we have to keep those ponds full and looking pretty. So we’re sending water all different directions, fill in these ponds and we’re trying to get enough pressure to water deer and cows with it, And so that’s been a challenge. We added some, added a little bit of distribution and but we’re gonna have to get real serious about getting our recharge rates better as this grass starts to really come on and the stocking rate goes up, Cause stocking rate is gonna double, like next year if it rains?

0:29:03 – Cal Hardage
You mentioned ponds. Are you allowing your animals to have access to ponds Or do you have those fenced off?

0:29:09 – Hunter Lehman
We’ve to build exclusions around our deer feeders and around our ponds. The caveat to that is, during this heat wave we had where it was 110, we let them in. We start with. You know, we usually start with thin cows And on this particular group I got a little bit greedy and went a little too far to the malnourished side And so I was a little bit worried about the bottom 10% of the group, the most of them just when they got this most grass I’ve ever seen in their life, and so they just took off and are doing good. That bottom 10% are still a little weak. I’m worried about them And so we let them in And I think I’m gonna go ahead and fence it back off, just because if they wanna see a pretty pond that doesn’t look like, you know, mucked up and stinking and all that stuff. So it’s really important that we keep those ponds clean.

0:29:54 – Cal Hardage
I assume that was probably the situation there, but I wanted to ask to be sure. Before you know, we’re gonna come back to this virtual fencing in the overgrazing section just a little bit. So let’s talk about the cattle for just a little bit. You’re bringing in thin cows. What’s your angle with those?

0:30:12 – Hunter Lehman
We try to try every six months, and the reason that we started down that road is because this country is so boomer bust, but when it rains down here, every pot of cattle in Texas seems like it’s coming south, but when it doesn’t, man, it is a desert. And so we have to be really flexible. And you know, last year we went 12 months with less than four inches of rain and then we got eight and a half inches overnight. So it’s just it’s so boomer bust. We need to be really fluid with stocking rate And I didn’t trust myself to make the decision that I needed to make when I needed to make it. We had cows that I was proud of And so we did that. So every six months we just look out there and, just like you would at the start of winter, if you’re grazing, stockpile is how much grass is out there today, and let’s stock for that. And then, if it rains during that time we have a lot of production we’ll then we’ll just increase the stocking rate on the next six months, and that’s kind of why we did that is because kept us at that stock rain That goes back to grazing in a way that improves wildlife habitat. Weight gain in this country is a little bit unpredictable. We could have tons of grass that’s dormant and we got to do something with it. We got to cycle it, but put a bunch of gaining calves out there, we’re going to lose money. And so stocker cows makes a lot more sense for us because they just need less. And if you take a thin cow and turn her out on this grass even if it’s, it takes very little supplementation and they just take right off and do really good. That’s kind of our enterprise And we’re shifting that.

Now. We have to retrain cattle to vents every six months. Train a cow that’s four years old, an invisible fence, it’s not easy. They’re trained in a week But a month later they’re still not all the way there. When that first group left, that first group of 50 left, then I could do a lot more cool grazing stuff with them than I could when they started. After six months they really understood it. So I think we’re going to transition to a cow-calf enterprise now, because if we had trained cattle and then in a years, cattle that we’re born, that we raise, that we’re born into this system, we can do a lot cooler things.

Because right now we’re kind of if Pratt calls it rotationally overgrazing. We’re rotating and we’re providing more rest than everybody else is. We’re getting much better forage production. Things are good but they could be a lot better. We have a long way to go. We’re staying too long, we’re on not enough stock density, but we’re doing everything we can the vents that we can do with these cattle. I’m just going to be disciplined on my culling and drought. Ranching for profit has helped with that. I went to the Ranching for Profit School and they have introduced me to critical rain dates. So we have dates written down, everybody knows about them And we need this much by this date or we need to have a conversation. We need to go take some forage samples, go take some inventory and we need to consider de-stocking. At least We need to have the conversation.

0:33:17 – Cal Hardage
Well, hunter, let’s go ahead and transition into the overgrazing section. We’re talking about virtual fence and you’ve talked about it some there, so we might as well go a little bit deeper into it. And I find the virtual fence fascinating. I’ve been trying to figure out if it would be cost effective for me, because, well, there’s a little bit of cost to it. So I’m excited to hear more about your virtual fencing. Maybe we should just start with what brand you got and what it requires for your cows, for your place to cover it, and go from there. We use Vents.

0:33:53 – Hunter Lehman
V like fence with a V. You buy it and you lease the collars from them, and the reason they do that is because the collars are changing so much. Nobody would stay on because you’d be having to buy new collars every year. That makes it doable for the producer. So that’s the control center you have to buy $7,500, unless you don’t have power at a good spot where you can have. You know if it’s a poverty, we’re pretty flat, so it’s not hard to put it at the barn where we have AC power and you need to solar units $10,000. And then it’s with a battery. You have to buy a battery every year And so with the battery and the collar rental it comes out to $45 a year per collar. And so the way that we justify that cost for one we got to get out of the way of the recreation. That’s just the bottom line. The other option would be build a bunch of barbed wire and put in a whole bunch of cattle guards. Well, you don’t even need to do the math on that If with as much as we want to rotate, and then the polywire deal is probably cheaper. It’s not that labor intensive where it rains and where it’s open, because you know you can 15 minutes you can go rotate your cows. But for us, you know, anytime we built a polywire pasture when we were doing polywire, between one and two miles of wire to put up and take down, you know, and we had to get creative. You know those little quarter mile reels don’t work, some redneck rigging in the shop and then you know, my wife driving the truck, i’m driving post and you know we’re going a two mile stretch. It’s a lot of work And so I think it just barely pays for itself. If I were to pay somebody I’m not paying myself what I’m worth, but if I were to pay somebody, you know, i think it just barely covers that. But the bottom line for us is we have to get our grazing management done without getting in their way.

I don’t see anybody yeast to the hundredth priority in making it work because they don’t want you building pasture smaller than 50 acres. The location is not that accurate, i mean it’s within five meters of error And so to get them down to a couple hundred cows on five acres it’s not for you. But where I see it really have an application is in the west, in big country. Here it’s super handy because of the brush We’re very limited on where we can put polywire because it has to be down a road. I like to build the vences down a road when I can, because it makes sense to their mind. I walk out of the brush, hit this road, i get shocked. It’s easier to figure out.

But man, imagine, on a BLM place that you can’t fence, cut that BLM allotment into quarters. That pays for itself in the first year, just by getting better utilization, forget what it does for the soil and better for the land, and all that, just by making them go to the places they’ve never been before. You could increase stocking rate. And then you have evidence to take to BLM and say here’s a heat map that shows you where the cattle have been. We’re staying off the riparian areas. You can let us put more on this BLM allotment. That’s where I see it having the biggest impact is in the West And places where you can’t fence or it’s really expensive to fence. If you could cut that 1,000-acre pastures into 250-acre pastures and that’s not that hard to do You’re really moving the needle. And so I think it’s going to be a Western thing. I think it’s going to take off out there. I think it’s going to be really helpful, but in the East, without the technology getting way better, i don’t see it working.

0:37:15 – Cal Hardage
Before we get started on that, you mentioned putting the controller there at a barn with AC. How big a coverage area does it have?

0:37:25 – Hunter Lehman
Well, i wish I could tell you we haven’t got that far yet. We have a pasture four miles from the barn And we’re going to graze that for the first time this winter We’re going to be in there. From what they told me, start now we can get every bit of this place and a few thousand acres of the neighbor’s places. I’m going to guess this is a guess, but close to 10,000 acres.

0:37:49 – Cal Hardage
Let’s go ahead and go to what you mentioned. How does it work And what do you have on the cows?

0:37:54 – Hunter Lehman
Like the dog fences, the invisible fences for dogs, but you don’t bury a wire or anything, it’s all GPS-based. And so we communicate the internet to the control center and then the control center communicates. I guess it’s a radio signal. I have an antenna on the barn. Anyway, it does not need internet to communicate to the collars. So once you train the system and tell it what to do, and it downloads it, you’re done. You can lose your internet and you won’t lose the control of your cattle. So the control center is at the barn Some people have it out in the pasture solar unit at their highest point, you know and then the control center communicates to the collars and the collars download at events, and so those collars are trained until you untrain them, and so you can lose internet. You can lose power at the barn. Those collars are working without that. You got some time, you know, to fix stuff. That’s really helpful, and the collars themselves are. They have a lithium battery in them And that lasts about nine months is what they’re telling me. And so what we do with this trading deal is every six months. We just trade them out, but in the future, if we go to CalCaf, you know, most people process cattle twice a year anyway. So it’s, you got them up. You just swap batteries then.

But the way that it’s a point to point shock, just like a hot shot. There’s two chains that come off the collar and they connect with the plastic bridge on the back of their neck. So there’s a big, thick, heavy duty plastic, two length chain. Double those chains back on themselves on each side of that so that they don’t touch each other And it just goes chain to chain on their neck. You have a tone only zone and a shock zone. So the tone only is like their warning It’ll beep. And then we usually build that about 30 meters And then I build about 120 meters of shock zone And that shock zone. It shocks them and gives them the tone as well. I usually try to build those on roads because it makes a lot more sense to them. They start getting beeped as they approach the road And if they cross the road, that’s when the shock happens.

You have to be careful when you’re training them on developing the right habit. You want them to stop and turn around, not blow through it, and they will learn like oh, if I just take off, i can get rid of this shock faster. It’s been a slow learning process but we’re starting to figure some tricks out on how to get them trained. And so we start with polywire over the top of their water trough and they have it figured out. So we turn them out into a polywire pasture, first with the vents built on it, shock zone, no warning. And so they just learned what polywire was yesterday. And then they walk up there to that polywire that shocked them on the face and they get a shock on their neck And so it kind of starts to make sense And it’s beeping while it’s shocking. So if they get shocked a few times and when they walk up there’s no polywire there But that beep happens, the smart ones they put a foot in there and it’s super cool to see in person.

I fed them too close to the line. I wasn’t paying attention, realized where I was and I had one come up. She hit that tone zone and it beeped and man, she put in the foot in the ground like a cutting horse and turned around. She was gone and it was really cool. I mean, she didn’t test it one bit.

And so some of them they figure it out and they do really well, and then Others of them. It takes them a little longer. They’re still hurt animals. You know. If one idiot is in a bunch and they all approach the line and she takes off the rest follower, you know.

But the good thing is, here’s the biggest kicker that makes it work. It wouldn’t work if they didn’t have this feature. Only shocks them going out does not shock them coming back in. The more They learn, the longer they have it. They really figure it out and that’s why we’re willing to go to cow calf and have a static cow herd. It’s gonna be so much less stress and also less stress on the cattle. You know I worry about it what our animal performance is like when we’re you know, for those first couple months while we’re learning, you know, and then a couple months in, they understand it, they might. so I don’t know sure to that, i don’t have the data on it. I think you might be held back on animal performance a little bit if you don’t do a good enough job on training.

0:41:46 – Cal Hardage
That’s really interesting that when they’re headed out, they’re getting shocks, but when they start heading back in, they’re not getting shocked, which is great design, yeah that’s a big deal if it wasn’t for that.

That makes the whole thing go, because when I think about it I think about goats with polywire. I dart through this. The faster I go through it I’m gonna get shocked, but it won’t be that long and I’m free. So that’s what I’m imagining, with those cows, but with that wide shock range And then with it not shocking them when they get turned around headed back. It’s a big difference.

0:42:20 – Hunter Lehman
Yes, sir, i’ve got. So we’ve had our fair share of issues. You know, at&t was a nightmare the first year or the first few months, and They got that sorted out. I had a modem go out. We’ve had problems and I’ve been frustrated and I call them up and they’re just as frustrated and they’re ready to help me and They’ve been awesome. They’ve really helped out a lot. They really helped with that training protocol and getting our training done. It’s getting better. But Vince, the folks events have been really good to work with. So they’ve helped us through all of our issues. But but yeah, i think my advice to people when they ask me is give it a couple years. You know, i think we’re. I bur, i think it was Burt Tiker. I hope I’m not giving the credit to the wrong guy. I think Burt Tiker said I don’t want to be on the cutting edge, i just want to be on the blade and that’s a great And the cutting is there’s a lot of painful moments in there.

0:43:06 – Cal Hardage
You know, you just want to be following those guys one thing You talked about when you put up a new Vince, do the cows know how do you move them to a new Patek? basically, i take down polywire to move them and they’re very cautious about moving right. There, it’s learned behavior.

0:43:22 – Hunter Lehman
But yeah, they were a little Cautious around that line and then they’ll. Maybe I should go back when now they’re getting shocked and there’s more coming following me. I was trying to move with the siren so I got some coming to the siren and some running back and getting shocked and they’re like What’s happening to her? It was a disaster. And so what we learned is just chill out, which is not, you know, not in my nature. Chill out And let them move themselves, because they will. If you graze severely enough to a point where that fresh grass is pretty, you know, enticing, they’ll be over there. They’ll be over there in a day, you know. And so it just Relax, you don’t have to know. The later we get, they figure out like, hey, if he’s calling us across that road, we can go, we’re not gonna get shot.

I can move them with the siren at the end, but early on, just let them discover that for themselves And they’ll find, you know, that’s a big deal because we had, i guess I want everything to happen Right now, like let’s gather and move on, be done, and I want to see them in the right spot, and I had to get away from that. I had to. Just they don’t move it now, their events will. You can set up in Vince, will. It will move your cows for you Like if you want to move from pasture a to pasture B and you know you’re going. So you’re going west to east. It will move that western line east a little at a time, won’t keep going unless all the animals are on the east side of it and then it’ll move up again And it’ll let them all cross. It’ll move up again, they’ll figure it out and there You know they get excited and they make noise over there when they’re on that fresh grass and they kind of call themselves So very interesting.

This technology is just amazing to me, no doubt and Merck is going to do some really cool stuff with that in the future, now that they own them. They’re talking about stuff like this collar is moving 30% less than the rest of the herd and Stuff like that. There’s temperature stuff and feedlots that might be incorporated into Vince At some point. But the most exciting thing about it you know from a grazing perspective is, i think, the heat map Stuff and what’s really cool is this is our heat map, for this is 10 days. We were in this pasture. You can obviously tell where the Vince was built, because where the edges are you can see. They crossed it a few times There and got a shock and went back, but this is where we sprayed on that area. You can see the checkerboard pattern matches up exactly with the heat map and I think that’s something that you know We don’t talk about enough.

When we’re talking, when the regenerative side is talking to the conventional side, you get on the high horse and talk about soil health and your damage in your place and erosion and all this stuff And we try to just belittle them into, you know, adopting these practices. That’s a terrible way to go, especially with agriculturalists, you know We don’t like to be told what to do to begin with. Now You’re telling me I’m I’m a terrible steward. No, we’re not gonna win any of them that way. The way we win them is tell them make more money.

Because when you Confine your animals a little bit more, if stock density is up, you’re grazing grasses You’ve never grazed before and, yes, that absolutely has soil health Benefits, and you’re gonna reap those benefits later down the road. But this year you have a higher stocking rate because those grasses wouldn’t have gotten eaten if you hadn’t confined the animals. And so I think utilization going up is what pays for the vents. And if you’re in the country that is, where your pastures are small enough, where you know you don’t get any more utilization by adding vents, then you’re not gonna be able to pay for. But in the West, when you can increase that utilization percentage Because you’re fencing where you could never build a bar bar fence or you’d never afford to build a bar bar fence, that’s where it’s a no-brainer.

0:46:52 – Cal Hardage
I think it’s very fascinating. I think that utilization is key. When you’re eating more of that plant, you’re gonna get more production. Even in my area, for the acreage size you’re talking about, i’m not making any paddocks that big. I don’t have enough cattle or enough land. There’s a few ranches in my area and if you go north just a little bit, there’s some fairly large ranches. Something like this could work for them. It’s interesting. Of course, going south, you’re getting closer to Tulsa and There’s not even 50 acres in each farm. And the thing you mentioned earlier give this a few years. It’s gonna be amazing what you can do with this Hunter great conversation today, but it’s time we transition to our famous four questions. Aim for questions We ask of all of our guests. Our first question What is your favorite grazing grass related book or resource?

0:47:45 – Hunter Lehman
Man, cattle and velled by Zeetsman is probably It’s been most influential. Somebody’s gonna read it. That hasn’t read it. I would recommend skimming the first third, the man section, because I get a little bit wore out about complaining. I don’t like listening to weather and market complaining. The first section of that book is essentially Zeetsman complaining about university professors And it’s like after the first five pages like I get it. And so when he gets into the cattle and the vellboy is a gang changer And I’ve referenced that all the time It’s highlighted up and marked up like a Bible.

0:48:16 – Cal Hardage
So I mean I’m embarrassed to say I have that book and it’s one of my two reads and I haven’t got it read yet. But so I’m definitely making a note of that because I prefer focus on the positive and let’s go from there. So I’ll skim the first part. Our second question What tool could you not live without on your farm?

0:48:37 – Hunter Lehman
Our business consists of my wife and I, and we are at a disagreement on this answer, but since I’m here, i’m gonna give you my answer. Her answer is the wife. She thinks that without her, nothing would happen, and that’s to an extent that’s true. She’s a suburban girl and she took to the ranch life and she is I mean, she is a dang rancher now and I’m very proud of that. I converted her completely. She’s pretty handy, but it’s the cell cameras Because they allow us to go on vacation.

I’ve got neighbors and we have interns now that just started, but you know it’s just us here. I’ve got neighbors that can come get us out of an emergency. We can take off, go on vacation and I don’t have to worry about the water, cattle and fresh pasture, put a camera on the water trough, haven’t done the the cattle proofing we need to do, and so being able to check that water trough from my phone Also, you know the place is long and skinny. I could be working all day four miles from the water and I don’t have an opportunity to go check water and just being able to Pull that up, it’s I mean, it’s a game-changer.

0:49:38 – Cal Hardage
What would you tell someone just getting started?

0:49:41 – Hunter Lehman
start, even if it’s small, gives you the confidence to go on and do some bigger things. But if you’re just, you know you can learn so much listen to podcasts and watching YouTube and I was stuck there for a while. I was trying to convince my landowner to let me lease the place, but I was stuck there for a while and I learned so much more on those 14 Koreanis. Just the learning opportunity, the learning of just go start and then it’ll make scale on it so much more enjoyable and possible.

0:50:06 – Cal Hardage
Oh, i agree so much and I’m sure I’ve said it on the podcast before I know. I say it to my guys at work all the time when things are going good, you’re not learning anything. You got to have those problems pop up, that that push you out of your comfort zone, stress you out a little bit. That’s when the learning occurs. Where can others find out more about you? We’re on Facebook.

0:50:29 – Hunter Lehman
Wish I was more active on there. And then we have a website It’s wwwlayman Lc for landing cattle, calm women LC. Calm the cattle is half of the business. We do some consulting. For what happened? was we my boss’s friends, all they got money and ranches too, and so he would say, hey, come to dinner. Tonight I got this guy’s asking me questions. I don’t know the answer to you know, come help him out. And so after a few years of doing that, i said, man, i’ll start charging these guys. So so I’ve started with my boss’s buddies and you know We’re just mostly wildlife stuff. But if somebody is is in Texas, they’re listening to this because they want to get started on this all the wired and they don’t know where to start, we’ll help them too. But but yeah, we just decided, if we’re gonna do all this wildlife consulting, we might want to start charging people so you can find our stuff on there.

0:51:18 – Cal Hardage
Really enjoyed the conversation today. I appreciate you coming on and sharing with us. Yes, sir, thanks for the opportunity. Enjoyed it. You’re listening to the grazing grass podcast, helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers, and Every episode features a grass farmer and their operation. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and want to keep the conversation going, visit our community at community dot grazing grass comm. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe to the grazing grass podcast on Facebook, twitter, instagram and YouTube For past and future episodes. We also welcome guests to share about their own grass farming journey. So if you’re interested about the form on grazing grass comm under the, be our guest link. Until next time, keep on grazing grass

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *