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Grazing

Last summer’s 64,220-acre Fontenelle Fire on the western edge of the Wyoming Range burned public and private lands, leaving ranchers with grazing permits on affected allotments wondering how to feed their cattle this summer.

Burned landscapes are privately owned or managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) primarily, as well as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Wyoming Game and Fish (WGFD), which lost a winter elk feedground and structures.

Now, these agencies and conservation groups plan to rebuild fences, revegetate slopes, restore burned-over landscapes and monitor rehabilitation.

The immediate goal, though, was to help displaced grazing permittees find pasture to carry them through the coming summer and keep them in business.  

High price

The massive relocation and rehabilitation project carries a hefty price tag, according to Eric Peterson, director of the Sublette County Conservation District (SCCD).

“When you get it all mashed together, the total is going to be about $900,000,” he said.

As a county agency, SCCD can apply for grants and is the recovery effort’s “banker,” according to Peterson, with money from the Sublette County Commissioners, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Trust and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and more grant applications in the works.

“This group came together real easily and real naturally,” Peterson said. “We’ve all worked with one another in many capacities. There might be similar efforts out there, but I think this is certainly a very good example of an interagency public-private combination.”

Bare bones

Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) range specialist for the Big Piney District Chad Hayward, his wife Jennifer A. Hayward of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Peterson started work “before the ashes were cold” to help grazing permittees.

Five USFS allotments and the BLM’s North LaBarge allotment will rest this summer and possibly next, which could have left thousands of cow/calf pairs homeless come July. Hayward said they asked permittees what “bare bones they needed to stay in business” to avoid selling off all of their livestock.

Last week, the group completed transactions providing summer pasture for 1,200 cow/calf pairs after USFS permittees offered “non-use” allotments, the WGFD donated a wildlife habitat management area and private pasture was leased.

‘Crash pad’

“After the fire, it became clear there would be some massive post-fire recovery strategies – restoring burned areas, burned fences, stands of timber that are not there any more,” Peterson said. “It became clear this group could come together and help folks … by putting together a crash pad so the landing wouldn’t be so hard for the folks who are going to be displaced from grazing allotments.”

Big Piney ranchers Wayne Barlow of Milleg Partnership and John J. Chrisman of the Rocking Chair Cattle Company appreciate the efforts. Both usually turn out on the BLM’s North LaBarge allotment; both will use alternate pastures for two to three summers.

“If they hadn’t done this, we would probably have liquidated a lot of our cows,” Chrisman said, adding he and his sister Pam sold 200 cows they couldn’t find pasture for. 

Barlow said trucking his pairs that spent entire summers on the BLM to more distant pastures will be a “huge change,” but he is grateful.

“I don’t know what we would have done if they hadn’t made this available to us,” he said. “I know Chad Hayward has gone way above and beyond what his job requirements are.”

Summer homes

With Sublette County’s high-elevation summer grass already at a premium and fears of another hot, dry summer, Hayward said locating suitable pasture was like “finding hen’s teeth.”

“You can imagine all the nuances that go into getting the right piece,” Peterson added.

Permittees moving to BLM and USFS pastures will be billed the same fees as on their own allotments, $1.35 per month per animal/unit, such as a cow and a calf. WGFD and private-pasture users will pay fees to the SCCD.

Hayward anticipates the allotments closing for “a maximum of two years, depending on the degree of drought this summer and the vegetation’s response to that.”

Proper response

“Priority number one was for the permittees to have a place to go with maybe not all the cattle they’ve got … but so they have room for enough livestock to hold together their operations, so they wouldn’t have to sell bunches of cattle,” Peterson said.

With that in hand, Peterson said, “We are looking at treating this fire as a gargantuan habitat-management project.”

Rehabilitation grants and agency funding allow a “proper response for more than cows” with seeding, weed control and habitat restoration yet to occur and “a fair amount of infrastructure and many, many miles of fences” to replace, Peterson said.

Ten and a half miles, according to Hayward.

“We all see the goal, and we all see the challenges we have to overcome to achieve that goal,” Peterson said of the process, which he considers “unique” due to the massive territory and multiple agencies involved. “It’s easy to join up when you can make a positive difference, help out some folks who are going to be in trouble and at the same time make sure the restoration is done right.”

Fontenelle Fire Overview

The Fontenelle Fire started on June 24, 2012 at approximately 4 p.m. 

It was located 18 miles west of Big Piney and 33 miles northwest of LaBarge on the west flank of the Wyoming Range, mainly in Sublette County and into Lincoln County.

The fire was managed under a full suppression strategy and was finally declared 100 percent contained on Oct. 18, 2012 after burning 64,220 acres, or about 100 square miles.

The fire caused a range of effects, from mosaic patterns with barely burned areas to high-intensity flames destroying everything organic.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to InciWeb.org.

Joy Ufford 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..

 
Salt Lake City, Utah — According to Public Lands Council (PLC) President and Oregon rancher Skye Krebs, the more voices that speak on one issue, the louder the message.
    Increasing the volume of the ranching and conservation cooperation message was the focus of a late-February two-day summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, which involved members of both the agriculture and conservation communities. According to a PLC press release, more than 120 people attended, representing more than 40 agricultural, government, agency and conservation organizations.
    “Are we going to agree on every issue?” asked Krebs in his opening address. “Of course not, but we agree on 95 percent of the issues and we’re not going to let the other five percent eat up our time.”
    The process of pulling together the gathering began a year ago with Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, who is involved with PLC leadership.
    “To the ranching community it doesn’t seem like we get fair media coverage, and we don’t always get portrayed in a positive fashion,” said Krebs. “It was Jim’s idea that we should be more proactive. Somehow our story and the positive things we do don’t always get told – the fact that good ranching practices benefit wildlife, watersheds, local communities and the economy.”
    Krebs said the whole western landscape is intertwined with public and private lands, and ranching, wildlife and conservation. “They’re all a part of a working relationship, and removing any part of it affects all the parties out there,” he said.
    The gathering focused on building relationships, establishing trust and finding common ground the groups can agree upon. Ultimately, the desired outcome is to get a commitment from different groups with common interests who want to join together on public relations, legislation and litigation.
    The first day of the summit focused on public relations and getting an accurate message out to the American public about the environmental benefits of ranching, while the second honed in on litigation and legislative issues.
    “We all agree the meeting went well and demonstrated there is some good potential to work together,” said Magagna in a follow-up interview. “But that was really only a beginning.”
    Magagna said some of the group’s early energy will likely focus on a new website that would highlight the positive aspects of ranching. “Beyond that, I know that PLC intends to get back in touch with the groups that expressed interest to put together a steering committee.”
    “Maintaining open spaces and keeping ranchers on public lands makes our Western landscapes vibrant, healthy, and productive,” said Krebs in a press release. “In that sense, ranchers have a great deal in common with groups dedicated to conservation and environmental protection. The partnerships created at this summit will help us make progress on shared goals.”
    “This was an incredibly productive meeting,” said Krebs. “When groups like the World Wildlife Foundation and livestock associations sit down at the same table, you have the potential for a really unusual, powerful and effective cooperation.”

Christy Hemken is 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..

With management of grazing a consistent concern, ranchers, federal lands agencies and groups across a wide swath of interests have begun to focus on strategies for grazing that include an approach of the entire landscape, rather than just acre-by-acre.

On Nov. 1, the Western Governors' Association organized a webinar titled, “An All Lands Approach to Grazing Management.” Hosted by Curtis Elke, Idaho state conservationist, the webinar included four panelists who discussed outcome-based land management and an all lands approach for grazing management.

Defining strategies

According to Karen Launchbaugh, University of Idaho (UI) Rangeland Center director, outcome-based land management is still being defined.

“The UI Rangeland Center is currently working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to define outcome-based land management by bringing people in the field together to identify challenges and giving them a chance to think about what outcome-based land management is,” Launchbaugh said.

“For outcome-based management to work, ideas, knowledge and opportunities need to come from the people who are involved with the process,” added Launchbaugh. “This management idea is inherently collaborative, across multiple landownerships.”

She believes opportunities on a large-scale basis, like large allotments, ranches and watersheds, should also be discussed because bigger scales offer more opportunities across land ownerships.

Outcome-based management

Idaho BLM Resources State Director June Shoemaker, another panelist, said BLM’s goal for outcome-based management is to promote shared land stewardship.

“Currently, regulations restrict the possible actions BLM can take, but we hope to push the edges and test what we can do to identify changes and create more flexible regulations,” she said. “No one-size-fits-all approach actually works, and I think BLM wants to focus on beneficial management plans for the future.”

She noted management plans, including ecological and socioeconomic goals, are largely untested, so BLM is developing the management plans as they go.

In connection with the all lands approach, Launchbaugh believes outcome-based is a different management approach.

“Outcome-based management focuses on desirable outcomes rather than prescriptions, like the number of animals and when to graze. The all lands approach focuses on using different types of ownership to create opportunities for land management across different landscapes,” she explains.

Species conservation

Dustin Miller, Idaho Governor’s Office species conservation administrator, said the all lands approach is connected with species conservation because both ideas strive to find a beneficial balance between wildlife and livestock.

“I truly believe healthy rangelands are important for the economic prosperity of the ranching community and are certainly important for maintaining viable populations of fish and wildlife,” Miller stated.

Because state lands are intermixed with federal and private lands, Miller believes the all lands approach is vitally important because multiple wildlife species have seasonal habitat considerations on more than one type of land.

“With the all lands approach, a lot of good is accomplished for wildlife and various groups who also use land resources,” he added.

Grazing as a tool

Miller cited the all lands approach as a possible turning point for shifting the focus towards livestock grazing and management as a more necessary tool in helping conserve land and wildlife.

In Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission Board of Directors Chair Chris Black’s opinion, “The all lands grazing approach and outcome-based land management from BLM are vital for the future of ranching because ranchers make their living off the land and always will.”

Heather Loraas is 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.

With tougher decisions looming whether to market weaned calves, producers may want to look at backgrounding as an alternative.

Mary Drewnowski, beef specialist with the University of Nebraska, shares some economical ways producers can background calves through the winter months without utilizing winter range.

Wintering systems

When producers look at wintering systems, they are typically looking at corn residue, winter range and harvested silage or hay, Drewnowski explains.

“A lot of producers use their yearlings as a flexibility in their programs. If they don’t have enough grass, they can sell the calves earlier, or if they do, they can make use of it,” she says.

However, Drewnowski sees pasture rent becoming too expensive, when combined with the low market producers are currently experiencing.

With pasture rent averaging $64 a month per pair in many areas of Nebraska, Drewnowski says even figuring that a producer can run two yearlings for one cow, it is still a dollar a day.

“That is really pretty expensive when we consider winter range quality and that we will need to add in a supplement,” she says. “I would encourage producers to put a pencil to the numbers. Corn residue could be purchased a lot cheaper.”

Some cattlemen shy away from corn residue because of fencing, location and the ability to watch the cattle, but these are issues Drewnowski says producers should be able to overcome, if they are willing to think outside the box.

“It could be a good opportunity for a young individual looking to get into the business,” she says. “Why not rent some corn residue fields and take in cattle to watch through the winter?”

Analyzing gain

For producers considering wintering their calves, the beef specialist says they need to look at how much they want the calves to gain.

“Rate of gain during the winter affects summer gains,” she says. “If we are going to do a long year lease system, the rate of gain we select will influence gains on summer grasses.”

An easy way to determine stocking rate is two 500 to 600 pound calves for every 100 bushels per acre for 40 days.

“They will primarily utilize the leaf and husk. A good rule of thumb is 50 percent utilization,” she notes.

Supplementation

Drewnowski also believes supplementing the calves with distiller’s grain is necessary with either corn residue or winter range, so producers can get reasonable gains.

She shares a study where calves were supplemented with corn, corn and urea, distiller’s grain and no supplement. The calves failed to gain if they didn’t receive some type of supplement, she emphasizes. The calves gained the most on the distiller’s grain supplementation.

“I would urge producers to put a pencil to it, but even if they are located some distance from the distiller’s grain, I think with shipping, producers can still get distiller’s grain cheaper than a corn urea supplement,” she tells producers. “Distiller’s grain is cost-effective for calves because they are usually deficient in rumenally un-degradable protein, and it is a great source of that.”

“Distiller’s grain is a true protein that can bypass the rumen, be absorbed by the animal and used to grow,” she states.

“I’ve seen great performance with distiller’s grain,” she continues. “Most vegetative and high-quality grasses limit performance because of the lack of un-degradable protein. Distiller’s grain is a great source of that, which is why we recommend it.”

Comparing supplement

Drewsnowski discusses a second study where performance was measured between distiller’s grain and a corn urea supplement.

Distiller’s grain came out on top because of its ability to bypass the rumen, she says.

While urea is a rumenally degradable protein source, cattle depend fully on bacteria in the rumen to process and utilize it.

“In feedlot cattle, wet distiller’s grain is recommended, but in calves, we don’t see much difference in performance between modified, wet or dry distiller’s grain in forage-based systems,” she says. “I would recommend pricing it on cost and cost of transport.”

“Wet gets expensive if it has to be transported very far, but the other two options can be pretty economical,” she adds.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By making improvements in pasture grasses, ranchers may be able to provide their livestock with longer grazing seasons and better nutrition. Bruce Anderson, extension forage specialist with the University of Nebraska, recently discussed the possibility of improving pastures by adding a mixture of grasses and legumes. 

Anderson encouraged ranchers to think about pasture improvement, adding, “Without good grazing management, all production improvements will be wasted. The grazing management program we use is critical to the investment in the pasture improvements we make.”

During his presentation, Anderson advised producers who want to make improvements to their pastures to consider grass-legume mixtures with different maturities to lengthen the grazing season and strengthen livestock nutrition. 

Cool season grasses

One of the most popular cool season grasses in the central Great Plains region is smooth bromegrass, Anderson said. The grass is adapted to a wide variety of soils and is an aggressive sod former that will fill open spaces not filled by other plants. It is very palatable, grazing tolerant and handles most of the conditions it is forced to endure, Anderson explained. 

Orchardgrass is characterized by rapid regrowth after grazing or haying and relatively good growth during the summer heat. Depending upon the variety, maturity can vary up to a month. 

“Orchardgrass can be a good mixture with smooth bromegrass,” he said, “but in a pasture mix, I would select different varieties of orchard grass as part of my management scheme 

Tall fescue is a bunch grass that spreads, forming a sod over time. It is a durable grass, with a good distribution of growth, Anderson said. It also has moderate salinity and alkalinity tolerance. 

“One of its strengths is it is very tolerant in sub-optimum soil conditions,” Anderson explained. “It is a good choice in stressed soils.” 

Producers who are considering Tall fescue should select a variety that is endophyte-free, Anderson cautioned. There are some quality issues with Tall fescue because of an internal fungus, endrophyte, that can cause some animal health problems, Anderson explained. 

Intermediate wheat grass is a cool season perennial relatively late maturing with moderate salinity and alkalinity tolerance. 

“What is good about intermediate wheat grass is it will form seed heads and seed stalks later, which spreads out the availability of cool season grasses,” Anderson said. “It also has better drought tolerance than other cool season grass varieties.”

Legume benefits

“Legumes are the most often overlooked and under-utilized part of our pasture system,” Anderson stated. 

Although they can be a challenge to establish amongst grasses, once they are established they can improve animal performance. 

“Because they have high protein and better digestibility, they can improve the performance of the livestock that utilize it,” he explained.

In a pasture study of a combination of brome and legumes nearly a decade ago, Anderson said animals gained an estimated 0.39 additional pounds per day for 144 days, which was approximately 56 pounds per animal. Early in the season, the pasture was approximately 10 percent legumes when the brome was growing, but became closer to 20 to 25 percent legume later in the growing season when the brome was dormant. Anderson said the study showed a producer could make money by the additional weight his livestock gained just by being able to eat a higher quality product and having plenty of it available. 

One of the most popular legumes to establish in a pasture is Red clover, Anderson said. 

“It is easy to establish, but the single plants are short-lived,” he said. “They may only live three or four years, so management-wise it may need to be reseeded periodically.” 

“Alfalfa can be one of the highest yielding legumes that can be grown under a wide range of soil conditions,” Anderson said. 

“The advantages of alfalfa are the excellent quality and good summer growth,” he said, adding that cattle can be more likely to bloat if they consume too much alfalfa.

An alternative to alfalfa is Birdsfoot Trefoil, which doesn’t cause bloat but is slower to establish. 

“Once established, it has good grazing and drought tolerance,” he said.

Producers should look at adding a mixture of legume varieties to improve longevity. 

“A mixture of Red clover and alfalfa is a good choice,” he said. 

The Red Clover will grow early, and the alfalfa will provide some longevity in the stand, as well as some diversity in the diet. 

“White clover, alfalfa, Trefoil and milk vetch all tend to be long-lived varieties if you use good grazing practices,” he explained. “Red clover is a short-lived plant, but if you reseed it every other year, you can maintain a good stand of new, young, healthier seedling plants.”

Establishing legumes

Anderson recommends producers use a no-till or double disk drill to successfully seed legumes one-quarter inch deep into existing sod. 

“I usually don’t see a good response from seed that is broadcast,” Anderson said. “The plants just don’t become as well established. Seed that is drilled will have a more consistent stand and be more productive.” 

Once planted, ranchers should fertilize with phosphorus, which is needed by the legume seedlings for fertility. 

“Don’t fertilize with nitrogen,” Anderson warned. “It will cause the legumes to have to compete with the existing sod.”

Producers may also need to test the top couple inches of soil for pH and may need to apply some lime to help the legumes become established if the ground is found to be acidic.

Once the legumes develop, Anderson said it is important to monitor the sod and legumes to control competition. At this point, he said it is important to not overgraze, and the sod may need a chemical suppressant. 

Giving grasses a boost

To give cool season grasses a boost, University of Nebraska Extension Forage Specialist Bruce Anderson said ranchers may want to consider applying some nitrogen fertilizer in the early spring in a recent presentation. With nitrogen costs increasing, Anderson said producers should evaluate their pastures so they apply the fertilizer when it will stimulate the most growth. 

They should also be prepared to carefully manage grazing after nitrogen is applied, so the animals can utilize the growth rather than trampling, using it for bedding, or other wasteful methods. 

“It is important to manage the timing of the application of nitrogen and how it is applied,” he said. “It would be ideal to get the extra growth when it is needed.” 

Anderson believes that producers who apply nitrogen to their pasture should be able to get one additional pound of gain per one pound of nitrogen, if the nitrogen is applied within the recommended amounts for the region it is being applied in. The fertilizer should also be applied when there is some moisture, he added.

In some instances, producers may also need to test their soil to see if phosphorus is also needed. 

“Producers may get more response by applying both nitrogen and phosphorus, instead of just one or the other,” he said. “Nitrogen and phosphorus together can influence the composition of the stand when there is both grasses and legumes present.”

“Nitrogen stimulates grass growth making it more competitive and decreases the amount of legumes. Phosphorus will give the legumes more response,” he added.

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..