Pasture improvement, water focus of Sims Cattle Company
McFadden – Scott and April Sims, their son Shannon and wife Melinda ranch holistically near McFadden.
Many things have changed since Sims’ grandparents bought the place in 1942.
“When my granddad got older, he leased the ranch to my dad and me in 1976, the year April and I were married,” Sims says. “We fertilized our hay meadows, put up lots of hay, sold hay and built up cow numbers. Dad, April and I started with 75 cows. Now we’re running more than 600.”
A look back
During the 1980s the ranch was doing well, calves were getting heavier, the herd was growing and the ranch had extra hay to sell.
“Then in the late 1980s, my brother and I were riding across a pasture after we’d moved the cows to summer grass. We asked ourselves if we were really sustainable. We were doing well but perhaps at the expense of the land,” Sims recalls. “Riding across the pastures that day, we realized we needed to do something different.”
He continues, “The grass didn’t look healthy. We had a lot of larkspur and weeds, and we thought we should be doing something to correct this.”
“During the late 1970s through early 1980s, my family plowed up marginal range that was abused years earlier with previous owners – not from mismanagement but because this area was a large water gap for cattle, before there were fences,” he explains, adding that there was heavy cattle use because of access to water.
“To resolve that, we planted crested wheatgrass, which greatly increased forage production. This enabled us to go out on grass earlier in the spring. We started using artificial insemination in 1975, so this worked well – having crested wheat pasture to utilize while breeding cows,” he says.
“My family was doing a lot of farming, putting in the crested wheat. About that time, in cooperation with University of Wyoming and Soil Conservation Service, we put in a test plot with several varieties of summer grasses to see which ones would do well in our area, at 7,200 feet,” Sims says.
“We noticed a lot of broom snakeweed in our crested wheat and also coming into our native range. Tom Whitson from University of Wyoming set up test plots to try different chemicals on broom snakeweed,” he explains. “We had success killing it, but within about three years it came back.”
“This was not a long-term solution. We also decided to do some spraying on the range,” he says.
In the winter of 1989, Sims and his brother went to one of Allan Savory’s schools in Montana.
“We came home and started dividing pastures. We realized we’d been overgrazing and needed to rest pastures,” Sims says. “Before that, it was summer-long grazing without much planning. We needed to create animal impact and rest periods.”
As a result, the family started fencing and realized they also needed to develop water. Many of their water sources, including both windmills and reservoirs, were inadequate or unreliable when grouping large numbers of cattle.
“We could no longer depend on a source that might water 15 to 20 head at a time, because we might have 100 cows coming to water at once,” he explains. “We started putting cattle together in bigger groups, moving through pastures faster, and saw a difference.”
One of the biggest learning curves for the Sims’ was at the school when they talked about using a pasture and not going back until it had a chance to recover.
“There was talk about 30 days of rest, up to 90 or 120 days. It didn’t take us long to find out that our pastures didn’t recover that quickly,” Sims explains. “All we have is cool season grasses. After we graze that pasture, it’s not going to recover the same year.”
They opted to grazing each pasture once during the grazing season.
When Sims and his wife attended a monitoring school in Paso Robles, Calif. in 1990, they began to monitor their grass production.
“We could see changes and document things that were happening. We started to see plants closer together, more litter on the ground, higher numbers of insect populations,” Sims says.
Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.