Winter cattle feeding: Local rancher utilizes bale grazing technique
Lusk – Roughly nine to 10 years ago, Nancy Harsy started looking for property in Wyoming and settled the Harsy Land and Cattle Ranch on a property roughly five miles south of Lusk on Highway 85.
Before buying the ranch in Niobrara County, Nancy bought property in Goshen County, which was enrolled into the Conservation Reserve Program. The Lusk-based ranch is her main headquarters and has a great infrastructure for ranching, she shares.
Nancy, who is originally from Illinois, is no stranger to the cattle industry. As a small child she spent a lot of her time on her father’s ranch in southern Illinois.
“My father was a cattleman and a farmer,” Nancy notes. “I’ve had no formal education in farming or ranching, except from learning from my father and experiencing some good ol’ hard luck.”
Nancy has learned a lot throughout the years. Prior to moving to Wyoming, she raised registered Angus cattle and had a spring- and fall-calving herd. Over the years, Nancy raised and showed cattle, but when she relocated to Wyoming, she sold her fall-calving herd and moved her herd of 75 spring-calving cows with her.
When Nancy first moved to her property, she noted there was room to make improvements.
“The ranch was very adequate with interior fencing, excellent watering points and well-managed grass,” she says. “There was room for more improvement to run more cattle per acre.”
“When I bought this ranch, I implemented intensive grazing,” she shares, noting she utilizes interior electric fencing to accomplish her grazing goals. Intensive grazing is a grazing system where animals are allowed to only graze a small portion of a pasture while giving other sections time to recover.
There are several grazing techniques producers in the area utilize. Alongside intensive grazing, Nancy decided to try implementing bale grazing because it offered several benefits.
Nancy credits Bud Williamson of Williamson Land and Cattle of Moorcroft for introducing her to bale grazing, which is utilized often in northeastern Wyoming.
“Bale grazing is an easy practice anyone can do without spending all day feeding,” says Nancy.
Setting up the bales
Shortly after meeting Bud, Nancy was introduced to another rancher, Linda Lawrence, who raises Brangus cattle in Montana. Several years ago, Linda overwin- tered around 100 head on the Harsy Land and Cattle Ranch and the cattle grazed bales.
“A cow will consume about 30 pounds of dry matter each day,” says Nancy. “It takes some planning, but once you set out the bales, its easy.”
Ranchers who want to practice bale grazing need to know the weight of each bale in order to figure out how long the bales will last.
When setting out the bales, Nancy shares it’s important to consider how long producers plan to bale graze.
“When making the grid of hay, you figure to move the fence every week or every two weeks,” says Nancy. “I make sure all the hay has been eaten and if I need to be gone for a longer period of time, I can move the electric fence over another row.”
Bale grazing benefits
Bale grazing not only improves ground conditions, but significantly impacts organic matter and produces little waste.
“I’m still benefitting from bale grazing residual to this day, because I have another lot right next to where I’ve grazed bales and there is definitely a visual difference,” she shares. “Cattle eat everything to the ground.”
In fact, Nancy shares bale grazing produces the least amount of waste she’s seen compared to feeding in Illinois.
“Ranchers can also feed older hay or lower quality hay and sprinkle them throughout better hay,” says Nancy. “I started bale grazing as females need more from their diet as they get further along in gestation.”
Nancy shares she found it much easier to feed cattle alone this way, even though the bale wrap can sometimes prove challenging. Additionally, bale grazing opened up some options economically.
“Bale grazing provided me with a way to sell my hay and gave me some cash flow during the winter time,” she says. “It was a win-win situation.”
Bale grazing not only increased organic matter and reduced waste, but improved grass conditions. The hardest part about bale grazing is having moisture in the spring for grass to grow, she shares.
In her downtime, Nancy runs yearling cattle for a gentleman in northern Niobrara County.
At a given time, she can easily sustain roughly 750 yearlings, but commonly grazes nearly 400 to 500 head of yearlings for her friend, and has consistently benchmarked three-plus pounds of gain per day.
She also spends her time with her husband, Leonard Pullis and her two sons, Aric Harsy and Aaron Harsy.
During the summer months, Nancy partakes in The Legend of the Rawhide reenactment at the Niobrara County Fairgrounds as Mother Featherleg. The festival is set for July 8-10 and Nancy invites all to attend.
“There will be the reenactment, dancing, several concerts and good food,” she shares.
Bale grazing for Nancy has so far been a one-time occurrence, but she has witnessed several grazing benefits.
“I would do it again, but my whole process has changed,” she notes. “For right now my management and ranch practices have changed.”
Ranching input costs have affected how ranchers do business, and will do so going into the future, she notes.
“We face all kinds of dilemmas, and one of them is going to be our input costs,” she notes. “It’s going to be very hard to make money this year, but don’t be afraid to take the jump.”
Nancy concludes, “Don’t ever say you can’t do it, until you try.”
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock. Send comments on this article to roundup@ wylr.net.