Tim McGaffic is back in the horse world after a hiatus as a ranch manager in Hawaii. Before Tim took the job in Hawaii he conducted horse clinics and taught low stress cattle management around the country, predominantly in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Hawaii, North and South Carolina, Florida and Virginia.
Several years ago Tim was offered a job as ranch manager of two ranches in Hawaii. They were managed as one and had been ear marked for development back in the early 90’s. Although the ranches when purchased were considered two of the premier outfits in that area of the Big Island, the perceived need to prepare them for a golf course and subsequent development brought the quick destruction of all livestock infrastructure. Fire was a major concern so the stock were left to graze the ranch to minimize fire danger by reducing fuels. Over time, the capacity of the land to sustain the ever increasing number of animals became problematic as each breeding season produced increasing demands on the available resources. With little oversight for the next twenty-five years, the breeding cycles continued and the animal populations grew ever larger.
Tim’s experience as a Holistic manager, ranch manager, horse and cow guy, made him an ideal candidate for the job getting the ranches under control. He decided to put his clinic business on hold. He packed his bags, horses and dogs and headed for the state of Hawaii. Tim’s job was to gather all the wild cattle, horses and other vagrants and move them to one of the ranches.
When Tim arrived at the ranches, the magnitude of the undertaking immediately became apparent. On the 24,000 acres, there were 250 feral horses, 5,000 head of cattle of which over 800 were bulls weighing well over 1,000 lbs., 100 head of buffalo, llamas and thousands of wild sheep migrating in and out of the property. Of these, the wild bulls presented a gargantuan problem. Regularly they would escape to neighboring properties that included schools, hospitals, coffee farms and people’s back yards. The sounds they made at night could have been associated with Dante’s Inferno and the bulls were everywhere causing trouble. Daily, delinquent escapees would turn up at the hospital, the local high school, coffee farms and no doubt, at other places that were never reported. The situation was made more difficult because the stock, being truly wild, would fight any attempt at capture.
The enormity of the task seemed virtually impossible. As a result, a plan was developed to simply deal with one thing at a time. That very principle is a fundamental tenet of “The Nature of Natural”. Thinking of Ray Hunt’s words, Tim began the job by making "the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.” Perimeter fencing was built or repaired to keep the stock on the property. That helped keep the crews on the ranch as the stock was now confined to the deeded lands. He then established a modern grazing system that was sustainable for the carrying capacities of the available resources on the ranch. Eventually the ranches’ reputation started to improve as the wild unruly stock was kept under control and marked for identification
As Tim laid out a plan for the next few years the overriding problem was the continued random breeding of all stock. Not only because of the behaviors that are generated from excessive amounts of testosterone, but the ranch resources could no longer support large calf and foal crops without jeopardizing the overall welfare of the herds from a grazing perspective. The task to eliminate studs and bulls was seriously undertaken as the first priority. The experience that Tim had on the public lands of the west and all the great people he had been around proved to be useful in this daunting task. During the first year, over a hundred two years old studs were castrated which allowed the horse herd to be brought under control. As a layover before their annual session at the Parker Ranch, the Nuebert brothers were hired to start colts. After they left, Tim initiated continuing horse training programs and a more controlled breeding program. The only stud was a registered Paint horse with a great disposition and he became the head man with the chosen mares.
The bulls were another story. It took several years to bring them under control. In the end an unbelievable eight hundred, thousand pound bulls were removed. To upgrade the genetics, particularly the disposition (the most inheritable trait), thirty-three Angus bulls were purchased from the Parker ranch. Today, the stock is much better behaved with the majority on one of the ranches while the other ranch is used for contract grazing. Hawaiians refer to wild cattle as, “Vancouver“. Now, they are seldom seen. As you can well imagine, Tim has literally hundreds of stories and scenarios that took place during his aloha adventure and no doubt he’ll be pleased to share them.
Tim’s work is based on what he calls “The Nature of Natural”, a philosophy of training based essentially on the laws of nature as we currently understand them. Many of the techniques you will already know, but how to use them, when to use them and why use them, may be new to you. We hope to see you at a Nature of Natural event where he will share some of his adventures and knowledge.
Quiet Techniques to Herd Cattle Create Mellow Cows, Backers Say
Stress: Conventional cowboy methods create nervous, sickly bovines that produce safety risks and poor-quality meat, some say. They urge slow pace and restful quiet.
February 04, 2001|TOM SLUIS | THE DURANGO HERALD; ASSOCIATED PRESS
DURANGO, Colo. — When Tim McGaffic teaches people to herd cattle, he tells a story.
It is based on a fairly straightforward analogy: Cattle are the persecuted, and the cowboys rounding them up are the persecutors.
It is an analogy that helps people empathize with the animal's state of mind, said McGaffic, an Ignacio ranch consultant and educator on low-stress management techniques.
"How would you feel if you lived in this little town and one day these black helicopters flew over the hill?" McGaffic asked.
"And then these people jumped out who didn't speak your language and they herded everybody into the local gymnasium, and if you tried to get away they would shoot at you and holler and come after you.
"Then you were separated from your children and they did something to your children, and suddenly they just went away. Then you had to go find your kids, and you really didn't know what's going on.
"That is sort of the analogy of what it's like when the cowboys show up. Suddenly you are jammed in this herd and you're going somewhere."
McGaffic said cattle react with anxiety.
"They see the cowboys coming and they push up or run off, because they know something's happening and it's not pleasant," he said.
Temple Grandin, an assistant professor at Colorado State University, said nervous cattle become sickly. They will continue to thrash about at the plant, putting handlers at risk of injury. They also produce a poor-quality meat that is dark and dry, Grandin said.
"It's a serious quality defect that costs the industry millions of dollars a year," Grandin said. "When you vacuum-package this dark meat, it doesn't last as long in the grocer's case."
McGaffic says there is a better way to treat cattle, and it requires retraining animals and humans alike. The method: Slow down and be quiet.
"In the traditional method, the cowboys are always behind the cattle, chasing them," said McGaffic, 49. "They are . . . hollerin' all the time, hup, hup, ho, all day long."
Cattle, which hear better than humans, just want quiet, McGaffic said, and they don't want to be chased.
Grandin said research has shown that yelling stresses cattle. "It will make their heart rate go up more than the sound of a gate slamming."
Horse-riding cowboys also force cattle to walk at an unnatural pace, McGaffic said. A horse walks at 4 mph, but cattle amble at 2 mph.
Though cattle are a prey species, they also have family groups and a pecking order, McGaffic said. When they are herded, their social order is changed and chaos is created.
"We are making the herd out to be the worst place to be, when it ought to be the best," McGaffic said.
The cure is a dose of bovine psychology.
The animals always want to see the cowboy, and they want to follow other animals. They have little patience, and if a cowboy gets behind them, they will stop and look.
"It's like if you had a coworker in the office walk behind you and push you around a little bit. See what you do," McGaffic said. "You would keep turning around to see them to see what he's going to do next.
"Cattle tend to be the same. They don't like it."
McGaffic teaches his students to drive cattle from the side, eventually working up to the front of the animal. This removes pressure from the animal, but allows the herder to reapply it if necessary.
Grandin said the techniques are geared to trigger the animals instinct to bunch together.
The methods work regardless of herd size, Grandin said.
By reducing stress in the animal, the propensity for sickness is lowered, and there is less wear and tear on the cowboys, horses and dogs, McGaffic said.
McGaffic arrived in Colorado in 1973 and teaches holistic management and horse classes.
He teaches individuals, but mainly groups. In May, he taught the management class for the Quivara Coalition in Santa Fe, a nonprofit group that promotes environmental ranching techniques.
Courtney White, executive director and co-founder of the coalition, said the 25 attendees from four states were enthusiastic about the methods.
"I was sitting in the back of the class and thought, 'Boy, John Wayne is probably rolling over in his grave right now. They don't prod and yell at the animals, and they treat the animals humanely.' "
In November, the Hawaii Cattlemen's Assn. hired McGaffic to teach two low-stress stock-handling clinics.
Kevin Mallow, an agent for the La Plata County Extension Office, said McGaffic's techniques have been used for generations. "Many old-timers did their herding with a feed sack," Mallow said. "They would feed them for a few days out of a sack, and on the third day tempt them forward."
But Mallow, who has been working cattle all his life, said the animals don't care how they are being driven. "If they are being driven, you're still driving them," he said.
Mallow said calves experience the most stress during weaning.