Instinctive Migratory Grazing: Kremers operate with unique grazing management and stockman ship goals
Lance Creek – Riki and Justin Kremers are ranching in the Lance Creek area of eastern Wyoming about 35 miles from Lusk. Justin grew up here; he was born the year his family bought the ranch he grew up on. In 1998, he took off on his own because there was not room for him and his brother to both make a living on the family ranch.
When he started ranching on his own, Justin realized he couldn’t do things the traditional way. Like most ranchers in the area, his family fed hay all winter and calved in February, and Justin found he couldn’t afford that much feed. He decided to make the change to calve in May, graze year-round and reduce the amount of hay fed to cattle.
Riki met Justin in 2004.
“The way Justin was doing things was a culture shock for me, because my family did the traditional things,” Riki says. “I had to do a lot of studying about what Justin was doing.”
“We got married in 2006, bought the family ranch in 2007 and we were trying to figure out ways to make it more productive,” she says. “We looked at intensive grazing and fencing big pastures into smaller paddocks. I traveled to seminars and looked for every educational piece I could get my hands on.”
The stocking rate on the land was about 40 acres per cow. This was good range pasture, compared to many areas of the West where it takes 60 to 100 acres per cow, she explains.
“Just through the little things we were doing, and improvements we were mak- ing, we’d gotten it to about 25 acres per cow,” Riki says.
With permanent fenced pastures ranging from 70 to 1,000 acres, Riki and Justin increased available forage by capturing previously un-grazeable acres and having better utilization of the rest of the pasture. Then, through a change in stockmanship with the use of intensive migratory grazing (IMG) their stocking rate increased even more.
The Kremers explain it was as if their sagebrush and mixed-grass prairie ranch tripled in size.
Many changes started in 2017 when Riki had a horse fall and broke her ankle. While recuperating and surfing Facebook, she came across a stockmanship group and became active with it.
Just prior to her injury, she and Justin were reclaiming four acres of shale badlands that were not growing much.
“We threw some old hay out there – bales where the strings had rotted off – and scattered it over that area, then brought our cows in there,” she says.
The cows had to be herded to make them use the entire area, Riki notes.
She and Justin, as well as their daughter Royal, who was about seven years old at the time, put 200 cows in there but they didn’t want to stay.
“We’d just keep turning them back into that area, let them mill around and pick through the hay and stir it around,” Riki says, noting they ate a little and trampled the rest.
“When I posted this and explained what we were doing to reclaim the land, a guy in that group – Bob Kinford of Texas – said we needed to look into IMG because that’s what he does,” Riki says.
“He told us we were basically doing it right, but needed to do a bit more with our cows,” she continues. “We were trying to bring our cattle together in a group, working as a herd to get them to graze together and stay together.”
The cattle were starting to come together, but not quite like Riki and Justin thought they should.
“Then we rode into a pasture one day and saw a strip that looked like it had been mowed,” Riki explains. “The grass was about nine or 10 inches tall in the pasture, but the strip looked perfectly level, about four inches tall. We started seeing more inci- dences where the cattle had grazed as a group, leaving a perfect four-inch residual, not grazing it down to the dirt.”
This is like the bison used to do, grazing across the land as a herd and mov- ing on.
They still didn’t have it all figured out so they called Bob and asked him to come do a week-long school to teach what they were missing. He showed them the piece they were missing was the stockmanship tactics of starting the cattle from the front, rather than driving the herd from behind. This works better with how the cattle naturally behave as a herd.
“As soon as we made this shift using his techniques, it was a huge change,” Riki says. “For the last few years, we’ve had a stocking rate of about 13 acres to the cow, despite drought conditions. We’ve tripled our stocking rate.”
She continues, “We can ask cattle to go places they’ve never gone before. One day I took a video while we moved a group of dry cows and yearling steers – this is usually not a good combination – but we started them from the front and strung them past my father-in-law’s house, but they never went onto his green lawn.”
Riki shares those cat- tle never even looked at the lawn; they just trailed right on by, trusting the herd men- tality.
“We took them through a gate, dropped them down off a hill and through a three- foot walk-through gate, across a six-foot alley and through another three-foot walk-through gate and into the pasture where we wanted them. We had complete con- trol of that herd and they just walked single file,” she says.
When cattle trust what’s happening and are not stressed, they have no reason to not want to do what the herd is doing. They are traveling on their own, just like they would without human interference.
“When we brought our cows to the corral, it used to be a fight; they didn’t want to go in there,” Riki says. “There used to be a tidal wave of cattle coming in, hit the back of the corral and bounce back to try to come back out. Now they walk in quietly, start filling the gaps and stand there.”
Sharing new information
Today, Riki puts on grazing schools and does independent consulting to teach this kind of stockmanship.
“Some people misunderstand the basics of migratory grazing, thinking we place cattle in a certain location where we want them to stay, but that’s not how this system works,” Riki says.
Under natural conditions when cattle live in a herd and travel in a herd, there would be no fences or boundaries and the cattle would travel and graze with the weather and seasons just like wildlife.
“When we put cattle in a certain pasture, we just start them on a grazing path,” she explains. “We might come through a gate and send them either direction. They make their way around the pasture and graze whatever plant species are their choice for that time.”
Riki continues, “We can also target certain areas like steep slopes or draws that rarely get grazed and maybe have noxious plants which need trampled or eaten during a certain time of the year. We often target Canadian thistle-infested draws in August when these thistles are high in protein and help balance their diet.”
To do so, Riki and Justin set cattle on a path which takes the whole herd through the targeted area. When they leave, they will have stripped all the thistle stalks and trampled many of them down.
In a 12-month period, a pasture might be grazed six different times because different plants come into season at different times and are palatable and nutritious at those times.
“If we target cheatgrass in early spring, we go through as many cheatgrass- infested pastures as we can and that’s what the cattle eat,” Riki shares. “A bit later, the crested wheat is coming up so cattle will eat some of that, then the western wheatgrass is starting and the warm-season grasses haven’t begun to grow yet.”
“We go through the pastures, let the cattle graze the early grasses and come back around for the later ones,” says Riki.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@ wylr.net.