Examining the practical on-ranch application and benefits of low-stress herding and stockmanship techniques

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2018: $19,980.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Diamond W Cattle Company
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Michael Williams
Diamond W Cattle Company

Information Products


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management, rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Production Systems: Livestock herding and low-stress handling

    Proposal summary:

    Managing the distribution of grazing livestock is critical to promoting sustainable ranching practice and sustainable ecosystems. Livestock are naturally selective in their foraging habits and do not graze pastures uniformly. In response, ranchers have long implemented practices intended to improve distribution on rangeland, such as installing off-stream water or cross-fencing. These practices, however, can be impractical or uneconomical at large spatial scales across rugged landscapes. As an alternative, stockmanship—or, the skillful handling of livestock in a safe, efficient, and low-stress manner—is another tool that can help address concerns over uneven utilization. More specifically, low-stress herding can be used to strategically place livestock within a pasture to ensure uniform utilization of forage and to avoid excessive use of sensitive resources.

    Our project aims to establish the efficacy and practicality of using stockmanship and low-stress herding in a production setting. Using GPS collaring of cattle and transect monitoring, we expect to show that these practices can both improve ranchers’ profitability (by increasing the number of livestock per unit area) and positively support multiple ecosystem services (protecting water quality and sensitive riparian habitats, improving vegetation for wildlife habitat, and decreasing the risk of catastrophic wildfires). Additionally, on-ranch field days throughout the course of the project will introduce the basics of low-stress herding to regional producers and share ongoing, preliminary results. Our outreach is designed to maximize frequent interaction between project leaders and regional producers and to facilitate regular discussion. This project approach blends science and practice in what we expect to be an innovative method to transmit stockmanship and low-stress herding to producers in our region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Convene a two-day short course—bringing together academics, industry professionals, and private consultants—to introduce the principles and practices of herding and stockmanship to ranchers in the region.
    2. Establish experimental control and treatment pastures on a working ranch in Ventura County to measure the effectiveness of herding to improve livestock distribution across three growing seasons, beginning Fall 2018.
    3. Develop a set of practical metrics against which to measure the success and efficacy of applied practices.
    4. Hold at least two field days (Years 2 and 3) to demonstrate and extend the use of herding to improve livestock distribution to ranchers in the region.
    5. Publish materials (bulletins, online articles, and videos) to be distributed statewide, which would present the results from our experimental treatments, provide cost-analysis of the practice, and offer recommendations.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.