For quite a long time now, many cattle operations have replaced horses with machinery for many reasons concerning convenience and efficiency. But emphasis today on animals doing more and us doing less – along with various health issues – more and more makes horse sense a reality again.

I heard renowned horsemanship trainer Ray Hunt make the statement about 30 years ago, “our horses are kind of living in a phony world now a days.”

I figure there are two reasons why our horses wouldn’t be living in a phony world: They are either helping us with our work, or helping us stay or get in shape. The small herd size of the average cattle owner, along with the growing popularity of cell grazing and electric fence, points the direction to less machinery and a better bottom line.

I heard a definition of excellence in animal husbandry as “set up your operation so that the animals do more and you do less and everyone will be happier for it.” In our mechanized age, we have been trying to tweak more production off the land by having machinery graze the land and distribute nutrients back on the land via manure and fertilizer spreaders.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

But the cost of machinery and fertilizer has made many ranchers rethink whether it is worth the effort. Those of us who love machinery and do not mind spending time underneath them can bow down to these graven images with their consistent need for maintenance (and break downs) while they drop grease, dirt and mud on us. But I prefer to pass on that style of worship, as well as spend less time sitting in a noisy chair that blows smoke in my face on wheels going over uneven ground.

The modern world of cell grazing is actually more horse-friendly than people might realize. We can put up high-tension wire and poly lines on horseback without much trouble. Barbed wire was nearly impossible unless we just use the horse with saddlebags to put clips on t-posts. Since the spool of wire stays on the ground in a spinning jenny, a horseman can just take one end of the wire and go. Poly line is light and can be rolled out and up again on an extension cord reel, which is very easily handled horseback. Water tanks, mineral, step in posts and poly reels can be skidded with poly feed tubs attached to a rope dallied on the saddle horn.

Wise use of pasture can cut hay use down to two round bales or less per cow/calf unit per year (four acres per cow/calf yearly average). Round bales can be set up behind poly lines on slopes ready to roll down at an angle. Weather permitting, bales can be unrolled in different pastures ahead of time. This allows more efficient use of fossil fuel, and more frequent use of hay burners to move themselves and each other. A young responsible rancher planning ahead can work out a deal with neighbors using borrowed or rented machinery cheaper than can be owned when it is not needed as often.

This is really the difference between moving or opening poly lines horseback and how often we have to fire up our machinery, whether we are grazing or feeding hay. We know that how well we unroll hay or graze can distribute this organic fertilizer/manure better. There are unlimited ways of setting up poly lines to compliment high tension wire and being creative about making it convenient to put up and take down.

Good horsemen can put up and take down poly lines hands-free in guiding our mount, since good horses have acquired cruise control, auto-pilot, obstacle sensing and negotiation capabilities. Step-in posts can be put in more efficiently with a horse than a four-wheeler because the horse stays with us, whereas we need to keep going back to our machine when we are using it instead. Since cell grazing moves cows to fresh grass more often, cows are easier to move, and there are less health issues. Smaller herds contribute to this as well.

The average age of the modern cattle rancher is well over 60 years. If the young cattle rancher is going to have a chance, they will find ways to keep most of their money in cattle, not equipment. If they can impress neighboring landowners with distributing their grazing, hay unrolling and therefore manure more evenly and efficiently through use of high tensile electric and poly line, the most important battle will be won. Landowners will be more willing to lease to a good grass manager.

In regards to human health, the horse allows us to keep our waist and back, and all of our joints and muscles in balanced motion much like an athlete. Riding a machine is not much different than sitting in a glorified office chair.

In the modern age of multitasking, how about telling the bank to keep their money, and OPEC to keep their oil, then giving the doctors and drug companies more vacation time (like the Maytag repair man) all at the same time?

There is much freedom in cutting our dependencies. The Bible says in the book of Proverbs, that the “borrower is slave to the lender.”

Remember in God’s 10 commandments, the second commandment is about no false gods, i.e. “balance.” Like a good budget, money is like manure: it does not do much good unless it is spread around. Get your horse in on it, too. They can fertilize while they help us breathe fresh air and stay healthier longer.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot hoof-trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: