If you don't think they're serious about sustainability out at the University of Georgia's J. Phil Campbell Sr. Research and Education Center in Oconee County, then you haven't seen the revolutionary, yet old-fashioned, way they're tending their cattle herd.
Instead of herding cattle with trucks, humans on foot, or Kawasaki "mules," they're doing it with horses and men — not cowboys, but stockmen.
It's the old way, but it's a new way for many ranchers or farmers who raise cattle, said Richard Boatwright, who rides herd on the Campbell farm's cattle along with C.J. O'Mara.
"This is commonplace in many areas of the country, and it's good for the cattle and good for the people," said Boatwright, 42, who managed a Wyoming ranch before coming to work at UGA.
"Every now and then, people see us working with horses and they look at you kind of funny," said farm supervisor Eric Elsner. But he's come to believe horses and his two stockmen are better for the pastures and better for the cattle.
"I'd rather have a horse hoof print on my pasture than a 20-foot doughnut," he said.
UGA's herd numbers between 400 and 500 at any given time on the Oconee County farm, whose 1,050 acres includes about 650 acres of forage or pasture, he said.
At times, tending the herd is a full-time job for the two men, though at some times of the year the cattle may take up only about half their work time, Elsner said.
The cattle are used by UGA researchers investigating a range of questions related to cattle, forage and keeping farms and pastures sustainable.
Boatwright, whose official UGA job description is "Farmworker II," and O'Mara, a senior agricultural specialist, ride cow ponies, two American quarter horse mares named Crystal and Sunny.
Sunny's quick and what stockmen call light-footed, while Crystal is strong with a low center of gravity, Boatwright said.
The cows just seem to relate better to horses and riders than to humans on foot or in a vehicle, O'Mara said.