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Grazing

Slater – After working with General Motors for a number of years and moving around to various metropolitan areas, Gary Ricley took the company up on its offer of early retirement and now advocates for wildlife on his land east of Slater.
    “I’ve always enjoyed working with cows, so I thought while I was young enough to do something I’d take the early retirement,” he says. “When we bought the place it was in oats and hay and a small pasture. We’ve enlarged the pasture and put most of it in CRP (Conservation Reserve Program).”
    For the past eight years Ricley has been working to develop and improve his land with wildlife in mind. This includes a pasture mix used on the CRP ground that’s drought tolerant and contains dryland alfalfa for deer and antelope.
    “The goal is to give us a wildlife habitat that works well with the cow/calf operation and enhances the wildlife habitat,” says Ricley, adding the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been helpful in showing him how and where to implement habitat improvements.
    The area’s native wildlife include grouse, antelope, deer and a few elk, along with foxes, coyotes and the occasional golden eagle. Ricley says efforts to reintroduce pheasants have had mediocre results.
    “A three-way cooperative on reintroducing pheasants between Pheasants Forever, the NRCS and myself included planting a row of trees on the west side of the pasture to provide habitat,” he says, explaining there were two plantings – the second of which went over a drip irrigation system.
    “Four years ago they released 50 hens with roosters, but they were pen-raised so their mortality rate was quite high,” he explains. “The first thing they did was come up around the house, which was safer for them, but they weren’t savvy to the predators so the roosters would sit around and crow day and night.”
    The 1,400 trees planted over the drip irrigation system are meant to both attract and protect wildlife. Wood rose bushes are thorny and provide good nesting areas, while cedar and wild plum trees provide food for birds and antelope.
    Ricley now has 500 acres enrolled in CRP, 250 of which he was able to hay this summer under the critical feed provision of managed haying and grazing, a practice in which he’s participated since 2002.
    “This summer didn’t produce the best hay, but it’ll be good enough to sustain the cows,” he says, adding that it turned out a lot better than he thought it would. “The problem was the court injunction that took the crop beyond prime, which is normally in late June and we’re usually allowed to hay July 2 under normal haying and grazing. The critical feed provision moved it to July 15, then the injunction brought it to the end of July.”
    “Our goal is to provide a habitat that is in harmony with our cow/calf operation,” says Ricley, whose cows are pastured on certain acres and turned out on CRP during managed grazing.
    He says under normal circumstances all the feed value would have been lost, but two rainstorms were able to sustain the grass and since then the area has received a few inches of rain. “If it was a program that allowed a second cutting, we would.”
    In addition to enrollment in CRP, Ricley’s acres are also enrolled in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Walk-In Area program, which he says has been very successful with grouse and dove hunting.
    “When I moved here I wanted to provide a place for hunters to come. Living in cities for so long, I didn’t have good access for hunting so I wanted to make this available,” he says of the Walk-In Program. “As long as hunters are good sports about it and are willing to put in the effort to hunt well, they’re welcome to come here.”
    Ricley has also participated in the Rangeland Improvement Program with a cost-share on a second well on his place that feeds the drip irrigation and two new water tanks placed at the back of two of his three pastures to keep the cattle from repeatedly walking up to the corrals to drink.
    The fences on Ricley’s place have also been replaced with wildlife-friendly fencing that’s low enough for a deer to jump over but has a bottom strand high enough for antelope to crawl under.
    “I came here because I enjoy the rural life and the peace and quiet and getting away from the rat race after living in metropolitan areas for 25 years,” says Ricley of his enjoyment of the Slater Flats.
    “What I’ve learned is that persistence pays off. Good practices and procedures will work if the timing’s right with the moisture. We’ve had some failures with the moisture, but if we keep doing the same practices it will work,” he explains. “Following the advice of people at the NRCS and neighboring ranchers and farmers has paid off. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I listened to what they said and it was very helpful and has been very successful.”
    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..
Salt Lake City, Utah – According to Colorado State University professor Rick Knight, the American view of ranching and open spaces in the West is shifting, but it’s not going to show up on the front page of the Washington Post or the New York Times.
    Knight was present to address the late-February meeting of the Public Lands Council in Salt Lake City, Utah, which brought together over 120 people from 40 agricultural and conservation organizations.
    “The reason why we’re here is that the majority of the public, for too long, have become disconnected from the fundamentals,” said Knight.
    He noted several quotes, some of which read, “Welfare ranching: the subsidized destruction of the American West,” a book title, and “Yes, we are destroying a way of life that goes back 100 years. But it’s a way of life that is one of the most destructive in our country…ranching is one of the most nihilistic lifestyles the planet has ever seen. It should end. Good riddance,” a quote published in the Washington Post.
    However, he said there is an emerging alternative vision, quoting a scientific journal as saying, “There is a consensus opinion among ecologists that says ‘exurban’ development alters ecological processes and biodiversity to a greater extent than either logging or ranching.”
    Scientists and ecologists use the term ‘keystone species’ for a species whose impact on a region far exceeds its total numbers. “That’s what ranchers are,” said Knight. “Because there are so few in the American West, but they have a disproportionate impact on the ecology, economics and cultural heritage of the West.”
    “From an economic point of view, we’re living in a time when we are losing a million acres of farm and ranch land each year and what is appearing is exurban development,” said Knight, explaining “exurban” as a suburb taken and dropped 20 miles outside city limits.
    “You can’t talk about the economics of ranching unless you also acknowledge the alternative economies of alternative land use,” said Knight. “It’s so interesting that, at a time when the red ink in the world’s greatest economy is fully capable of swamping the ship, ranching is fiscally conservative.”
    He gave Wyoming as an example, where, for every dollar paid in property tax on farm and ranch lands, the counties and school districts must generate 69 cents of services. The alternative, ranchettes, “puts an onerous financial burden on county governments and school districts to the tune of $2.40 for every dollar coming off property taxes,” said Knight, noting that as an example of deficit spending on a local level. “Ranching and farming are in the black.”
    He said food production is a sustainable economy, although not necessarily lucrative. “Ranching as a process and an economy basically dances on either side of that profit/loss margin,” said Knight. “It’s right there in the economic margin, and if you want the definition of a sustainable economy, don’t look under ‘lucrative’ in the dictionary. Ranching and farming have profitable years and years of loss, and that’s what a sustainable economy is.”
    He said that, because grass grows on an annual basis, ranching is one of the few land uses in the American West that can be done year after year. “We’ve been ranching parts of the West for over 400 years,” he said.
    Regarding grazing lands subsidies, Knight said they aren’t a bad word. “Subsidies are simply a legitimate use of taxpayer dollars,” he said, noting that recreation is the most subsidized use of public lands in the West, followed by energy.
    “What our American public doesn’t understand is that the Forest Service and BLM grazing leases support approximately 30,000 Western families who own an estimated 108 million acres of private ranch lands that are kept open and out of development,” said Knight. “Those are usually ranch operations that might not be economically viable if the public land grazing leases weren’t there. It’s important to point out the positive sides of what the public gets in that public/private bargain.”
    According to Knight, the ecology of ranching comes into play when considering that ranching minimizes fragmentation and keeps the West open. “In the alternative land use, homes perforate the landscape, which is dissected by roads,” he noted, adding that gives the same “natural heritage” of a Fort Collins, Colo. suburb. “Those areas support the same biodiversity – robins, magpies, garter snakes, skunks and raccoons – instead of mountain lions, bears and big game.”
    In a study of the Southern Rocky Mountain Ecoregion – which includes southern Wyoming, Colorado and northern New Mexico – it was found private ranchlands maintain 21 percent of the lands with an immediate connection to federal lands through grazing leases. Of the private lands surrounding public lands, 43 percent within a kilometer of federal land boundaries belonged to those ranching families with grazing permits.
    “Those private ranchlands that are kept out of exurban development – that are being fiscally responsible in supporting their counties and school districts – also provide incredible public benefit by increasing public lands because they buffer from the harmful ecological effects once the lands are subdivided,” said Knight.
    Knight said cultures matter more as more Americans are aware of respect for cultures different from their own. “It’s ironic that we do show this respect for a much older culture, even than ranching, of the first Americans. We show this respect and wish to acknowledge the importance of those cultures, while at the same time we seem to try to sweep up the second oldest culture,” he said.
    Knight quoted author Wendell Berry as saying, “As important a reason as any to support ranching, farming, irrigating and logging is that our society will need them as teachers, mentors and critics in the years to come.”
    “What he meant is that the production of food is fundamental,” said Knight. “Food is one of the basics.”
    He said another aspect of the American West is that ranchers are clearly playing a leadership role as the country moves forward. “Ranchers are now playing the leadership role in a West that works. They’re the groups hard at work building healthy human and natural communities in regions of the West.”
    He said ranching is the natural connection between food and open space, and the public movement is beginning to recognize that, partly through the local food movement. “It’s the fastest growing segment of the food business, and some studies say it’s the only growing part,” said Knight.
    In 2004 there was a single quarter where the U.S. was a net importer of food. “That was the first in American history,” said Knight, noting that food independence is, in part, an issue of homeland security. “Food is still a fundamental importance and we can no longer take it for granted.”
    “Ranchers produce ex-actly what the public wants – food and open space,” concluded Knight. “They’re the only thing I can think of that’s the living embodiment of the natural connection between the two. This is what our message should be about.”
    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..
Gillette — Wyoming’s Durham Ranch, located between Gillette and Wright, is featured in a documentary that will begin airing on PBS next month. Viewings of the film, The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth, will take place in Gillette and Wright early May.
    “You can think of plants as the bridge that connects atmospheric carbon with soil carbon,” says a scientist during the film’s opening remarks. The documentary, by Emmy award-winning filmmaker Chris Schueler, details the role animal agriculture can play in sequestering one to two billion tons of the estimated 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide humans release into the atmosphere each year.
    “We would only have to improve carbon percentage by one percent on our 450 million hectares of agricultural soil in Australia and we could sequester all of the planet’s legacy load of carbon,” states Christine Jones, PhD.
    Stanford Professor Christopher Fields, PhD. observes, “You can think of soils as a bank account that has the capacity to really build up very large quantities of capital moving into the future.”
    James Hansen, PhD, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies adds, “Our agricultural practices could be modified to bring CO2 back down much more quickly.”
    This documentary in- cludes interviews with leading scientists as well as personal stories from farmers and ranchers on three continents to examine how carbon sequestration in topsoil can not only curb global warming but also increase biodiversity and fertility, lessen the use of fertilizers and pesticides and utilize rainfall much more effectively.
    Among the film crew’s visits is a stop at the Durham Ranch, where they interviewed ranch owner John Flocchini, manager of the ranch’s buffalo operations.
    “The health of the land is imperative to what we do, and the health of the animals is imperative to what we do,” says Flocchini of the ranch’s bison and cow operation. “It affects everything from your death loss to your productivity to your weaning weights, your conception rates, everything is tied to the health of the land.”
    “We’re trying to simulate the way it was 300 years ago with the bison herds roaming. There were very large herds and there were predators and they functioned jointly, the predators helping to keep the buffalo in tighter groups affecting the ground differently and they would keep the animals moving from place to place. Also, when you have large herds together they’d come into an area and graze it off quickly and they would continually move on, providing the time necessary for the grasses to recover.” He details the interdependence that exists between plants and animals.
    “All that’s gone wrong on this land is grazing the conventional way, believing that overgrazing is controlled by animal numbers,” says Hollistic Mangement International Founder Allan Savory, using a wildlife park as an example. “For many, many years government has tried to limit the numbers that the animals have, but limiting the numbers doesn’t help at all, the people just get poorer and poorer and the land suffers more from a greater degree of partial risk because there are inadequate animals to keep the grasslands alive.” Savory says timing of grazing and keeping animals moving through an area is important.
    Flocchini says Wyomingites will have two opportunities to view the film locally before it begins showing on PBS. The first will take place on May 6 at 7 p.m. in the Heritage Room at the Camplex in Gillette. The film will again be played on May 7 at the Town Hall in Wright beginning at 7 p.m.
    Jennifer Womack is managing 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 summer grazing season approaching, it may be time to develop a grazing plan. According to Nebraska Extension Educator Troy Walz, the elements of good grazing management are stocking rate, timing of grazing or season of use, distribution and kind or class of livestock.

“Producers should develop a grazing strategy,” Walz said.

Factors like livestock management, production objectives, pasture objectives, plant resources and season of use can all help ranchers develop a good grazing management strategy, he explained.

Capacity and rate

“Grazing capacity is the total number of animals which may be sustained on a given area based on the total amount of forage available,” Walz said. “The stocking rate is the animal unit demand per unit area over a period of time. It is a management decision.”

Both are important considerations for maintaining an equilibrium between what is best for the cattle and the grass they graze.

The biggest influence is stocking rate, Walz said.

“It impacts how well the plant can recover from grazing during the growing season, as well as future forage production, the quality of available forage, animal performance and long-term change in species composition,” he said.

Stocking rate can be determined by animal units (AU), which is based on the standard that a 1,000-pound animal consumes 26 pounds of air-dry forage a day.

“The animal unit concept allows for expressing forage supply and demand using a common unit of measure,” Walz explained.

Walz said the amount of forage an animal consumes in a month is referred to as an AUM, or animal unit month. The standard is 780 pounds of air-dry forage for a 1,000-pound animal.

Using those figures, producers can adjust for larger or smaller animal size, or determine animal unit days or year.

Available forage

Walz shared with producers some ways to determine available forage supply. Table values, based on ecological or range sites and species composition, are available.

Producers can also use data like hay yields, visual estimates or clip samples. They may also rely on records, observations and experience. Producers can also use vegetative zones to determine stocking rate.

“Grazing management is simply the manipulation of grazing animals to accomplish desired results in terms of animal, plant, land and/or economic responses,” Walz said.

Simply put, Walz said producers need to develop a scheme where they take half and leave half, while taking into account leaving behind forage for wildlife and trampling that will occur during grazing.

“The proportion of the total standing crop commonly allocated to different functions to maintain healthy rangeland under continuous grazing is harvest efficiency,” Walz said. 

In the take half, leave half scenario, 50 percent of the plant is allocated to plant vigor or leaving half while 25 percent is allocated to livestock consumption, and another 25 percent is allocated to trampling, wildlife and insects.

Harvest efficiency is typically 25 percent.

Developing a system

Producers can make the most of the grass they have by developing a grazing system.

“The grazing system affects grazing distribution in a pasture,” he said. “Grazing distribution can be improved by fence placement and the location of water sources.”

Ultimately, improved grazing distribution will increase grazing efficiency, he continued.

Slope can also impact the amount of forage grazed. Walz shared a diagram indicating that, with a 10 percent slope, cattle still utilized 100 percent of the usable forage, but at 30 percent slope, the cattle only utilized 70 percent.

If they had to climb a 60 percent slope, the amount of usable forage grazed declined to 40 percent.

Different systems

Producers can use various grazing systems to manipulate grazing distribution and control timing of grazing or season of use, Walz said.

The easiest system to manage is season-long continuous grazing.

“Producers only have to decide how many head to put in a pasture for how long,” he said.

Typically, the cattle graze in the same pasture from May through October. Although the cattle performance can be very good with the proper stocking rate, there is a risk of damage in preferred areas and grazing distribution may be less than desirable.

The cattle will keep grazing vegetative growth, which can be hard on plants but good for the cattle. In preferred areas, the cattle may cause blowouts and damage preferred grazing areas. Walz said grazing distribution may be poorer with this system because, depending upon water placement, cattle may not graze in certain areas, but that could be good for wildlife.

Rest rotations

In a rest-rotation system, one pasture in the system is rested for a full year, which increases plant vigor for the rested pasture.

Walz said the stocking rate is proportionally higher in the other pastures, which may result in better grazing distribution.

Each pasture is grazed once a year in a deferred grazing system. Walz said the benefits are increased vigor in late-spring and early summer deferred pastures.

“It is well-suited for range grasses that benefit from seasonal rotational grazing. Grazing distribution will be good,” he explained.

Within this system, Walz said every pasture is grazed a different time of the year, which allows for more improvement in the vigor of grasses.

Intensive management

Producers with plenty of labor available could consider an intensively managed, short-duration grazing system.

In this system, each pasture is grazed one or more times during the year. Although it has excellent grazing distribution, inputs for fence and water may be higher, Walz said.

In an intensive system, producers will have more flexibility for when they use a pasture, and how they stock it. They may also be able to graze some pastures more often than others.

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..

Most producers’ turnout dates for grazing are between May 1 and May 15. However, with some stockpiling of last year’s growth and other managerial practices, producers can utilize early grazing of their pastures and have a sooner turnout date. 

“If a producer wants to run a profitable ranch, they need to graze as long as possible, and early grazing of pastures is a part of that,” says Dallas Mount, University of Wyoming’s sustainable management of rangeland resources educator. 

Early grazing

“Almost all ranches should be able to graze year round if they match their production system to their environment, and early grazing is certainly an option for producers,” explains Mount. “The only people who would be out of year-round and early grazing are the ones who often have more than two feet of snow on the ground.”

“Producers are going to need carry over forage from previous growing years to be able to early graze,” continues Mount. 

Early rotations

Producers should consider rotating through the early pastures fairly quickly to promote the growth of the perennial native grasses – a type of management that is referred to as flash grazing. 

Mount warns, “It can be damaging to pastures when producers turn their livestock on to early graze and stay on those pastures for a long period. The most important factor is allowing those grazed plants to fully recover before another grazing occurs.”

“If a producer feels like they are in a pasture early and the plants are going to be susceptible to the pressure of early grazing, they should not be in the same pasture every spring,” warns Mount.  

Early grazing in one pasture for an extended period of time can be damaging to the grasses, and the way to mitigate the damage is to rotate through pastures during spring grazing and allow complete recovery after grazing.

Flash grazing

“The most important thing when flash grazing is to allow those plants to fully recover before they are grazed again,” says Mount. “Coming back too soon to re-graze those pastures would create a problem. Producers are going to want to allow those plants the opportunity to fully recover.”

Mount adds that moisture is a big contributing factor to the amount of regrowth and the recovery period forages incur to be ready for grazing again. 

“If we have a dry spring, it might take the rest of the growing season to fully recover those plants,” states Mount. “If we have a nice wet spring, those plants might recover in 45 to 60 days and be ready for another graze.”

“Plants are very susceptible to damage when grazing earlier in the growing season than they are later,” comments Mount. “If producers have access to farm ground and some cultivated forages, they can provide some early grazing options that rangelands or native grasses will not.” 

Mount adds, “However, the use of early grazing planted forages is only available to folks who want to be in the farming business, as well.”

Cheatgrass

When native perennial grasses become damaged, the likelihood of other unwanted grasses, such as cheatgrass, becomes more prevalent.  

Ranchers often try to graze cheatgrass early since that is the only time the plant is palatable to livestock.  

While cheatgrass grazing can be done in some cases, producers should use caution and be diligent in observing what the livestock are grazing.

“If producers are flash grazing their cheatgrass in the spring, they want to be off of that cheatgrass before those native perennials start to come on,” advises Mount. “Often times, folks stay in those pastures even just five days too long, and that will damage those native perennials and cause cheatgrass patches to expand.”

Mount mentions one of the causes for cheatgrass becoming established in pastures is due to the perennial grasses at one point became damaged, and with continuous damage to the perennial grasses, the cheatgrass problem is going to become larger, rather than reduce in size. 

Supplements 

The amounts and the types of supplements required for livestock while early grazing depends on several factors. 

Some of the these factors include the stage of pregnancy a cow is in, if they are lactating, the overall energy and protein requirements of the livestock and what the land provides in terms of energy and protein. 

“As long as there is enough energy out there during grazing, the livestock should be just fine,” says Mount. “It all depends on when a producer wants their calving season to be and what the livestock need to be supplemented with.” 

Mount says there is no silver bullet forage that will meet livestock needs year-round, and several systems of operation and management practices need to be considered before producers implement early grazing. 

Grass tetany

Producers should also watch out for grass tetany when their livestock are early grazing pastures and eating the lush early green grass. 

Grass tetany is a metabolic disease resulting from a magnesium deficiency and is more common in lactating cows.  

“Cows that are lactating and grazing lush early growth green pastures are going to need a magnesium supplement,” explains Mount. “Magnesium reduces the incidence of grass tetany from occurring in cattle and should be considered as a supplement for lactating cattle grazing early growth grass.”

Mount mentions most producers put magnesium out with their mineral, and feed stores sell a spring grass mineral supplement that has a higher concentration of magnesium to combat grass tetany issues. 

Madeline Robinson is 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.