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Laramie – The University of Wyoming Range Club is set to host the second Integrated Ranch Management Symposium (IRMS) from May 13-17 in Laramie. The workshops offered during the symposium cover relevant topics facing ranching and range management that have been identified by members of the Range Club.  

“The big reason we did this is because something like this is not offered in this part of the state,” said John Wagner, president of the Range Club, of IRMS. “We felt that students, those who want to go into ranching and those who want to go into public land management, don’t really get a chance to hear these topics we consider important in course work. It is found more in production and the real world and we wanted to allow students an opportunity to participate and get exposed to some of these.” 

Hosting the event

This event, planned completely by the students, brings producers and students together for four days in the various workshops and clinics. These include analyzing unit cost of production (UCOP), sell-buy marketing, grazing management and rangeland monitoring, livestock marketing school and low-stress livestock handling. 

The first workshop, unit cost of production, is a valuable skill that ranchers need to keep their business running. This workshop helps ranchers makes sense of the various aspects of their business and provides opportunities to understand where the income is coming from and where the costs of running the business are going. This is the same economic tool that is taught as part of the High Plains Ranch Practicum School. 

“This UCOP is a managerial accounting system to allow ranchers to discover the economic strengths and weaknesses of their ranching businesses and then develop strategies to improve the profitability of their businesses,” said Dallas Mount, presenter of the UCOP workshop. “In the workshop, we will discuss how the UCOP system works then get right in to putting it into practice on an example ranch.”

“Participants will leave with a good handle on how to use UCOP and several take home resources to help them implement this on their ranch,” he continued.  “Participants in the school report the UCOP system is one of the most valuable ranch management tools they use.  Many ranchers report improvements in profitability of several thousand dollars annually after implementing the system.”

This model is popular with ranches because producers can compare their ranch’s financial performance with the ranches in the model. The comparison process, known as benchmarking, allows ranchers to identify where costs are high or low and allows them to identify areas that need management attention. 

Orchard’s Land EKG

Another course that has been drawing a lot of attention is the grazing management and rangeland monitoring class.

“This class will be put on by Charley Orchard with Land EKG,” Wagner said. “He is going to put on a two-day course that is more advanced and meant more for ranchers and NRCS folks who are interested in implementing his monitoring program. On Thursday, he is going to be putting on a less advanced one-day school. This one day school is geared towards students and other folks who are looking towards an introduction to grazing ecology and land monitoring.”

The Land EKG Monitoring System was developed as a land health monitoring, management information and reporting system that Orchard has been using since 1994 to help ranchers across the world improve their management skills and decision making. 

Participants in this course will get hands-on experience while learning land monitoring basics and conducting soil surveys, grazing indexing, forage production methods, surface cover percentages and EZ-EKG assessments. The bulk of this time will be spent learning the monitoring mechanics for the EKG transects. Along with the knowledge, participants will leave with additional materials such as a 2013 EKG Blink and Site Mechanics field guide, permanent location forms, EZ-EKG pocket field cards for quick land assessment and a six month trial subscription to the EKG DataStore valued at $120. 

Livestock handling

The last course offered, low-stress livestock handling taught by Tom Noffsinger, is designed to improve handler and animal attitudes through the investment of time that trains both parties to respond to each other. This helps to create an environment that the animals feel comfortable by teaching the handler the power of observation to address the situation and the animal’s reaction to it. As a result, an animal can be guided to a place where it feels safe. Using these techniques makes working these animals safer and more efficient. 

“I have been to several of his clinics, including the one he put on last year for this event, and he does an outstanding job,” Wagner said. “He does a classroom instruction and then he does a hands-on demonstration. He is really good at what he does.”

Kelsey Tramp is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Boelus, Neb. – When it rains several inches and a field is vacant of plant life, how much water infiltrates into the soil? During a recent cover crop field tour in Boelus, Neb., soil experts addressed this question.

“Soil health is the capacity of the soil to function as a vital, living ecosystem to sustain plants, animals and humans,” explains Linda Schott, University of Nebraska-Lincoln an Extension assistant at UNL. “It is made up of physical, biological and chemical properties that all interact.

Infiltration

According to Aaron Hird, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) soil health specialist, producers need to find better ways to infiltrate water into the soil.

“If the soil can only infiltrate water at one-half inches to one inch an hour, it's a problem because we get bigger rains than that,” he explained. “We don’t have a soil erosion problem in most areas, we have a water infiltration problem.”

“We have to find better ways to get that water into the ground and not have it run off. We build soil by adding to it. It builds from the top down,” he said.

Benefits of plants

Hird said he likes to see a field with living roots at least 10 months out of the year to give the ecosystem an opportunity to build relationships.

“Soil biology for plants and animals is dependent on plants providing food,” he explained.

If a field is bare from October until March, there is nothing feeding the food microorganisms in the soil, so they die and disappear. Earthworms are one of the easier species to identify, but there are many other species that depend upon plants to provide nutrients.

When cover crops are grazed, the plant loses the same amount of root mass as what is grazed off.

“If we graze half, half of the root system dies,” Hird explained. “When we leave half, it helps the roots rebuild in the soil. When the roots die, all that organic matter stays there, and the plant can regrow.”

“Basically, we are dumping the root structure into the soil and re-growing it. It makes us twice our money by having cover crops. Grazing and re-growing is a critical opportunity,” he noted.

Carbon

Carbon is also important to soil health.

Paul Jasa, Extension engineer with UNL, explained, “If we go into a field that has been tilled forever and expect to see carbon building in the soil, we will be very disappointed. The bioactivity of the microbes isn’t there to cycle the nutrients and roots out of the residues. A lot of people think if they plant a cover crop one year, it will change that, but their soil is no different.”

“We can’t take a root and change the soil in one year. It takes several,” Jasa continued.

Research has shown that producers can only expect a 0.5 percent change each year in a long-term system to establish a new dynamic. However, that dynamic can be sped up with the combination of cover crops and livestock grazing to increase the carbons and microbes in the soil.

“The bacteria in the rumen is similar to the bacteria in the soil that cycles the residue and builds organic materials there,” Jasa explained.

Reducing erosion

Greg Rasmussen has a field of cover crop mixture north of Boelus, Neb.. Before he purchased the land in 2013, it had been in a corn and soybean rotation.

“When I purchased it, the renters mentioned that there were some severe slopes and hills throughout the field,” he said. “The erosion was bad enough that they were farming around the washouts. After I purchased it, we did some waterway work to curb some of the erosion.”

In 2014, Rasmussen said he planted oats in the field in March, terminated the oats and planted soybeans.

“We had a really good soybean crop, and we planted wheat into the soybean residue. The wheat winterkilled, so we came back in with a spring grazing mix and grazed it,” Rasmussen explained. “Last fall, we planted another grazing mix and followed that with rye, which we killed this spring and replaced with oats.”

“The oats yielded nearly 80 bushels per acre,” he said. “We planted another grazing mix and will graze that this month.”

Learning from cover crops

Rasmussen said he has learned a lot from growing and grazing cover crops.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is not to leave the cattle on it too long,” he commented. “If we let them eat more than half of it, it slows the regrowth. The first year we farmed this field, there were two years of cornstalks here because they had no-tilled.”

He continued, “What I have noticed since then is my organic residue is breaking down a lot faster now, and compaction is less. I can tell when I am using equipment that the soil isn’t as hard. We use a John Deere no-till drill. We have had to back the hydraulic pressure off and lessen the depth settings.”

Timing

Rasmussen has also learned the importance of grazing cover crops at the optimal time.

“Last year I had a grazing mixture sampled at Ward Laboratories for nitrates. When I called for the results, I found out this mix wasn’t only good grazing but exceptional grazing,” he said. “Grazing time is important. If we wait too long to graze, it gets tall and stalky, and they leave a lot behind. If we graze it more timely, the cattle will just take the tops off, which lets regrowth occur. It is not only good for the cattle but for soil health.”

Mary Drewnowski, beef systems engineer with UNL, told producers they may not get a ton of regrowth on the warm season plants, like sorghum Sudan, in the fall, but if oats are planted with it, they will take off with a little bit of rain. Sorghum-Sudan and sunflowers are warm season grasses that go through their rapid growth phase in June and July.

“If we graze in mid-October, there will be no regrowth, so we could graze it as much as possible while still maintaining adequate ground cover,” she said.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In the western United States, much of the rangelands and forests are owned and managed by the federal government, and Sage Grouse Initiative Sagebrush Ecosystem Specialist Jeremy Maestes said that the pace and scale of change across western rangelands has increased.

“Western rangelands have always undergone changes, but the pace and scale of those changes today – due to things like altered wildfire regimes, invasive species and longer and seemingly more frequent drought – are challenging our ability to sustain both people and wildlife on these landscapes,” he said.

Maestes moderated a panel discussion during an early 2017 webinar discussing range management strategies and tools.

Changes in landscapes

“Particularly west of the Continental Divide, in places like the Great Basin, we’ve seen fire size and frequency both increase in the last decades,” Maestes commented. “We’re seeing mega-fires engulfing hundreds of thousands of acres in just a few days that were once pretty rare. Now, they occur almost annually.”

Additionally, introduction of invasive species like cheatgrass and other invasives have been what Maestes called “game changers” that have changed the landscape.

“Rangeland could effectively bounce from fire and even drought over time,” he added, “but now, with cheatgrass and other invasives in the wings to take over in the absence of our other rangeland plants, a favorable recovery can no longer be taken for granted.”

While healthy and resilient rangelands have the capacity to withstand disturbances, rangeland degradation can result in a shifted state, transitioning the landscape from desirable species to a system dominated by fire and invasive species.

“Once we break Humpty Dumpty – that fragile state – we may not be able to come back,” Maestes commented. “We need to learn to manage in a way that keeps us or pushes us toward the desired ecosystem state.”

Resilience

Maestes said, “Fundamentally managing for resilient rangelands is the unifying goal upon which all of our desired ecosystem services depend.”

Regardless of the goals of production, be it livestock production, wildlife management or watershed function, he noted that first, management must promote ecosystem resilience.

“Managing for resilience involves using what we know about rangeland systems to better predict vegetation responses to disturbance in management and reduce risks or these undesired state changes,” he continued.

As an example, Maestes cited soil temperature and moisture as key factors associated with resilience related to cheatgrass resistance.

“Warmer, drier ecosystems are more susceptible to cheatgrass dominance than cooler, wetter sites where growing seasons are shorter, productivity is higher and conditions are just less favorable for these invasives to truly dominate,” he said. 

“We can use this information to implement the right practices in the right places to more effectively mitigate our risks,” Maestes added.

Conservation of the West

At the same time, by maintaining healthy rangelands, Maestes said that western heritage is conserved.

“Healthy rangelands support a diverse array of native plants that each play an integral role in rangeland resiliency,” he said. “In a sense, we need to get back to the basics of range ecology to get people thinking again about what’s going on under their boots and really discuss how management decisions affect plant composition and abundance – not only above ground but also below ground.”

Perennial grasses, he added, are particularly important to the healthy and resiliency of rangelands.

“Once established, well-managed perennial grasses put down more roots than invasive annual grasses, which allows them to better hold their ground through drought and deluge,” Maestes said, citing grasses like blue bunch wheatgrass as important. “Think of them as the icebergs of our rangelands.”

Additionally, research shows that as perennial grass density increases, invasive species density decreases.

New tools

With the changing landscapes, Maestes also noted that new tools are continually being developed to help management.

“Tools are increasingly available to help land managers better understand the landscape context in which they’re working so they can mitigate risk,” he explained. “For example, in the sagebrush steppe, partners use widely available soil survey data.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service soil survey data has been utilize to develop an index that assess risk across rangelands.

Looking at successful on-the-ground strategies for management and range restoration can push ranges down a successful path.

“Regional managers are employing pragmatic and practical solutions to help us increase rangeland resiliency and combat invasive species,” Maestes commented.

More from the Western Governors Association “Rangeland Management Strategies and Tools” will be presented in future articles in the Roundup.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Sheridan The relationship between research and applied management has always varied due to the many variables associated with both. Also much of the published literature on range management does not address the numerous facets of what producers worry about when making their managerial decisions. 

John Walker, professor and resident director of research at Texas A&M University, spoke about range management and the science that goes along with it at the Wyoming Annual Section Meeting for the Society for Range Management (SRM) at Sheridan College in November 2013.

Research and management

“We have to have a research plan and follow that plan if we want to learn anything and if we want an ambiguous answer to the question we are trying to answer,” said Walker.

“We can’t just go do a study on one set of animals and say that applies to all of them. We want to know the variations between different experimental units, so we can infer that to other populations,” explained Walker. 

He emphasized that management does not have the constraints that science does, and grazing management is the same as business management – at the end of the day, the business that runs the ranch. 

Grazing management

Walker described grazing management as being comprised of the four areas of stocking rate, species of animals grazing, season of grazing and distribution of the grazing animals. 

Walker emphasized that season of grazing and distribution have to be considered as one unit and that stocking rate is the most important factor of grazing management. 

“The season of grazing can not be changed if the distribution of the livestock is not changed,” stressed Walker. 

“The whole profession of range management began due to people overgrazing on rangelands,” described Walker. “We recognized the problem after we had severely degraded the ranges.” 

Walker added, “Before we had an appreciation of overgrazing we didn’t really know what proper stocking rates were. Now we can argue that we do.” 

The most profitable operators minimize their production costs by minimizing their feed costs – the biggest production cost, and they do that by using proper grazing management and especially by not overgrazing. 

Once a piece of rangeland is overgrazed, the producer then has to buy feed. 

Carrying capacity

“Variable carrying capacity is the real challenge today,” stated Walker. “Producers are now looking at how people adapt their stocking rate to the current precipitation levels. That’s the new issue.”

A management practice that can be utilized when precipitation levels are down is to vary the stocking rate of the herd.  

“The producer who varies their stocking rate should be the more productive enterprise,” stated Walker. 

In addition to looking at rainfall, producers also need to look at pastures. 

Walker added that a producer does not need to know if there’s 2,000 pounds per acre out there or 2,500. They need to know if there is enough grass out there or if its short.

Walker explained that the carrying capacity challenge requires flexibility with stocking rates. 

Studies have been conducted comparing rotational grazing to continuous grazing, and there continues to be debate among experts about which is better.

Multi-species grazing

Multi-species grazing also affects the overall production for a producer. 

“By adding sheep to a cattle operation, a producer can increase their overall production by 24 percent,” explained Walker. “On average, when cattle are added to a sheep production operation, the production can be increased by 10 percent.”

Walker explains the difference in the production levels is because sheep are more biologically efficient than cattle. 

Also different livestock species have different dietary preferences. Cattle eat more grass, and sheep consume more forage.

“Even when sheep and cattle are on the same pasture, the sheep eat a different portion of that plant than the cattle do,” reasoned Walker. “Also, the animals utilize the typography differently. Cattle tend to hang out in the riparian areas, and the sheep go to the highest place in the pasture.” 

Distribution and season

Walker’s reasoning for livestock distribution and season of grazing are closely related to the distribution of animals. 

Once animals are restricted, they automatically affect the season of the land that is being grazed. 

“The greatest invention that has ever affected range management is barbed wire,” stated Walker. 

There are many aspects that go into managing a ranch that are never captured in a grazing study, but that information needs to be captured for those studies, which is not easy to do. 

“Good grazing managers are developed from experience by reflecting on consequences of their actions to develop their intuition,” he stated.

“Sometimes producers try to make things so complicated,” declared Walker. “At the end of the day, grazing management is complicated, but producers can still do it. They don’t need Einstein and calculus to know when it is time to open the gate and move the cows.” 

Madeline Robinson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“If it’s black, it’ll come back,” says retired State Natural Resources Conservation Service Range Conservationist Everet Bainter of areas affected by this summer’s widespread wildfires.
    In the areas that burnt hotter, leaving a white powder, Mother Nature may need some short-term help with the healing process.
    Bainter and Mike Smith, a range scientist at the University of Wyoming, recently took a moment to share some proactive measures that Wyoming landowners might consider as they plan to move past this summer’s wildfire challenges. Where rain has been received, erosion is a leading concern at present for many Wyoming landowners.
Regenerating the range
    “In the really short term,” says Smith of erosion, “the main thing to do is stay out of the way.”
    With little vegetation to catch the run-off, rain can create treacherous conditions.
    In timbered areas, Bainter says falling trees horizontally along the hillside and dropping rocks in higher flow areas to slow the water, can help mitigate erosion. In some areas erosion mitigation is a must before reseeding will be a feasible option.
    “If there is going to be much regeneration of existing plants they should show up by fall,” says Smith.
    In those areas that remain bare, broadcast seeding is a consideration. Given the rugged terrain in many of the areas affected by wildfire, it might be something that’s addressed on a limited and spot-by-spot basis.
    “Hot fires can leave a hydrophobic surface that has to be broken or weathered down for a couple of years,” says Smith. “High animal hoof action might be useful in addressing spots like this, and if this is done, broadcast seed would be advised to take advantage of the hoof prints as sites for germination.”
    In the absence of reseeding, Smith says it can take years for vegetation to re-establish itself in these hot burn areas. Bainter says weedy forbs will be the first plants to appear.
    If seeding is necessary after the coming months reveal regrowth potential, Bainter suggests including an annual like oats or barley as a cover crop to help the new grass establish.
    “It’s a terrible time of year to seed anything,” he says. “If I had to seed anything, I’d wait until after the first killing frost to keep it from generating until after that first freeze.”
    Bainter says seed should be stored in an area where temperature plus humidity equals less than 100.
Grazing
    Neither Bainter nor Smith call for a delay in grazing, but offer some tips to landowners as they move forward.
    “Remember soil health,” says Bainter, “and the need to rebuild litter on the ground.”
    Because livestock will be more likely to graze the burnt areas where the forage is more succulent, Smith says, “Limit grazing in the first post fire year to late summer or fall. After that do not stay in a pasture very long and keep utilization to a moderate level. Smaller burned areas are very attractive to grazing animals so forget about the rest of the pasture. Watch the burned area.”
    “Fire is usually an extreme but short-term event that usually does more good than harm if post fire management is well done,” says Smith. “There should be plenty more forage afterward. Getting through the immediate aftermath is the bigger issue.”
    A UW Extension publication Smith helped author highlights some of the forages available for reseeding and their associated traits. It can be found at wyomingextension.org/AgPubs/Pubs/B1206.pdf.
    An NRCS publication from November 2010 also offers additional information on seeding varieties, optimum dates and other considerations. It can be found online at wy.nrcs.usda.gov/Technical/Plant/tech_notes.html.
    Jennifer Vineyard Womack is a freelance writer who lives near Newcastle. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..