First off, let me assure you I do not hate horses. In fact, this article is not really about horses at all. It is about soil and grass.
Horses, though, can really improve grass and soil even though the way they are currently managed does the opposite. It’s just that when horses are grazed in a group with cattle, sheep, and hogs (what I call a MOB), they have some peculiarities as does each species I have dealt with.
There appears to be a hierarchy of species when they are combined. Saddle horses tend to have an air of aristocracy above all others. It’s not even all horses; just saddle horses. For some reason, being trained changes a horse’s perception of itself because I have not seen this behavior when grazing bucking horses.
Cattle, on the other hand, are pretty easy going and are content with good grass and clean water. They do not, however, appreciate pushy sheep. Yes sheep are pushy! They butt to the front of the line and don’t observe proper social etiquette. For some reason sheep don’t take the hint when a cow bunts them out of the way. Hogs can be that way as well, but are actually the social butterflies of the MOB. They don’t really care who they hang out with as long as there is good grass to eat. Side note: turkeys have not fared well grazing with larger animals. The economic loss from irate cows and curious hogs made me abandon adding them to the MOB quickly! Maybe someone else has been successful, but it wasn’t me.
When putting a multi-species MOB together, the first two weeks is when you see these behaviors amplified. The saddle horses will do things like block a gate after the MOB has been nicely flowing for a quarter mile. As a herder, you will be in the back wondering why the whole MOB has stopped. You glance up to see your favorite saddle horse turned sideways in the gate blocking any animal from passing. It becomes your job to ride to the gate and chase that horse through the gate with a stick, rock, or something hard to get your point across. Like I said, horses are jerks! Maybe I am being a bit too hard on horses because I have had a couple bulls do the very same thing.
For the MOB to work effectively, it requires a strong leader. YOU must become that leader. If there are bunch quitters you must harass them and teach them the MOB is their safe place. It doesn’t matter what species or what age. Each animal must know they are safe as long as they stay within the MOB. If an animal is blocking a gate you as the leader must let that animal know it is unacceptable behavior. If a cow keeps bunting sheep away from the water you must get after that cow. It may be difficult if the horse blocking the gate is a pet to you. Out in the MOB there are no pets, only equal members of the MOB. So suck it up and be a strong leader! (Here’s the technique I use to teach my animals that “Happiness is Being in the Herd.”)
After the initial training phase is over, you will see amazing things happen within the MOB. The animals learn they are part of one unit. It doesn’t matter what species they are. You can still sort off the animals you want, however, if you happen to bring in only the cattle or only the sheep, you may turn around to find that the rest of the MOB is following. Even the horses!