Dakota Rancher Makes Money Replacing Hay With Grazing

“The ingredients for success are quite simple,” he says. “Small-frame animals with the right genetics, May to June calving in our area, and carefully managing forage so that enough of the right kind is stockpiled for the winter season.”

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian View Finally we find a voice of reason.

I’ve been following Jesse since she was a college student. Over her lifetime she will likely make a very large impact on our industry. She already has a very good start on it. — jtl

by Jesse Bussard in Beef Producer — May 2015

A Handbook for Ranch ManagersFEEDING hay is one of the absolutely most expensive things you can do,” says South Dakota rancher Gary Howie.

This realization came to Howie three years ago while attending a Natural Resources Conservation Service sponsored training with grazing expert Jim Gerrish.

Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference Manual“It gave me an eye-opening in terms of the value of standing grass,” says Howie. “It’s considerable.”

Howie had heard stories of people reducing hay feeding on their ranches and set out to find a way to do this on his own 4,000-acre operation in western South Dakota. According to Howie, strategy is the key to making these changes.

The Essence of Liberty: Volume I: Liberty and History: The Rise and Fall of the Noble Experiment with Constitutionally Limited Government (Liberty and ... Limited Government) (Volume 1)  The Essence of Liberty: Volume II: The Economics of Liberty (Volume 2) The Essence of Liberty: Volume III: A Universal Philosophy of Political Economy (Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic) (Volume 3) “The ingredients for success are quite simple,” he says. “Small-frame animals with the right genetics, May to June calving in our area, and carefully managing forage so that enough of the right kind is stockpiled for the winter season.”

Combat Shooter's HandbookReconnaissance Marine MCI 03.32f: Marine Corps InstituteThe Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other MisfitsOrganizing these ingredients in the mix, however, isn’t as simple.

“If you were feeding a lot of hay for three or four months out of a year and one day you decided, ‘Well, I’m not going to feed anymore hay,’ ” says Howie, “I think you’d have a train wreck.”

He tackled his situation with a multifaceted approach, making changes slowly.

Amending cows

On the cow side, Howie focused on improving herd genetics by buying smallerframed bulls and culling bigger cows.

“It would be really difficult to graze 12 months a year with a 1,500-pound cow in our area,” says Howie. “A smaller-frame cow at 1,150 or 1,200 pounds by age 3 or 4 is my ideal cow.”

Rather than drop cow numbers to reduce haying, he took measures to dramatically cut hay consumption instead.

Howie matches his calving season with the growth cycle of his forages, which has allowed him to decrease his cows’ winter feed needs and also reduce the labor required when calving time does arrive. To further reduce feeding costs, calves are left on their mothers through the winter and weaned with the herd in spring using nose weaners.

Loving the grass

“Those were the easy things to do,” says Howie. “The most critical and hardest thing is managing the grass and planning ahead to make sure you have stockpiled forage for the cattle to graze.

“It takes time to learn how to be effi- cient and to really get committed to grass management,” he notes.

He now grazes his cows in early spring on his hay meadows, helping him stockpile forage in key areas of the ranch for winter grazing. Using electrical fencing, he breaks up his permanent pastures into temporary paddocks and moves cattle daily to increase utilization of his forage resources.

The growing season in Howie’s region is about 90 days and is dominated by cool-season forage species. The short window of opportunity makes it imperative that Howie plan out his grazing schedule. He allows forages maximum growth opportunity to ensure an ample stockpile in winter.

Howie has found choosing the species of grasses for stockpiling is just as important as the planning. In general, he says his best stockpiled grass is western wheatgrass, followed by intermediate wheatgrass. Crested wheatgrass is another common grass found on the ranch, but it is not favored due to its low palatability. When grazing such low-quality grasses, Howie provides a protein supplement to aid in digestion. He also provides a free-choice mineral year-round.

Still some hay

“It’s important to remember there are winter conditions where cows can’t graze, like when it’s a 50 mph wind and blowing snow or snow with an ice crust on it,” Howie says.

For example, when Winter Storm Atlas struck in October 2013, he was forced to feed hay to part of his cow herd for about three weeks. He estimates each cow ate about 800 pounds of forage in that period.

“When compared to a typical producer feeding hay for three to four months a year, even if hay is $100 per ton, that’s still an incredible savings,” Howie notes.

While Howie has seen his cows graze through 6 or even 10 inches of snow, it’s situations like Atlas that lead him to continue emphasizing the importance of having an emergency hay stockpile. For his herd of 300 cows, he keeps 500 tons on hand.

The most recent winter has been kinder than years past to Howie’s ranch, and as of mid- March, he still had not grazed about 40% of his stockpiled forage.

Howie plans to continue seeking new ways to reduce inputs on his operation and ideally would like to “kick the hay habit” for good. He admits there is still a lot to learn, but knows he’s improving every day.

“I’m pretty comfortable with the way we are doing it now. We have really calm cows. We feed a very minimal amount of hay, and we are managing the livestock to take the best care of our land,” says Howie. “Things are really coming together.”

Bussard writes from Billings, Mont.

Take some, leave what?

WHEN grazing stockpiled forage in the dormant season, Gary Howie’s objective is to never take more than 70%. He wants the residue trampled into the ground by the cattle. This is known as herd effect.

“We pay a lot of attention to trampling with the intent of building up ground cover,” says Howie. “We don’t seem to get good trampling if we only take a small percent of the grass.”

Howie subdivides his pastures, often into 20 or 30 smaller pieces, or paddocks. He says changing the size of the paddock significantly affects trampling — the bigger the paddock, the less trampling you get and vice versa. While it requires a bit more work, he uses longer, narrower strips to graze because in his experience, it creates greater herd effect.

“We vary the paddock size with the weather,” Howie says. “In cold weather, especially with snow cover, the cows need more. We do very little back fencing, so when the snow melts, the cows frequently go back and forage on areas they missed with the snow.”

While he’d like to increase stocking density from time to time, to increase herd effect, Howie is limited by the low-rainfall, short-growing-season environment he manages.

“We often can’t get much above 70 animal units per acre,” he says. “Some of the mob grazers in other parts of the country report 500 animal units per acre and higher.”

Currently stocking 300 head of cows, Howie’s challenge now is to increase his herd’s size and continue to improve grazing management.

“At this point it appears that we could readily run at least 400 cows and adjust for overall consumption by choosing when to market the calves,” he says.

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Is now available in both PAPERBACK and Kindle

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The book is organized into seven parts: I. Environmentalism: The New State Religion; II. The New State Religion Debunked; III. Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics; IV. Interventionism: Law and Regulation; V. Pollution and Recycling; VI. Property Rights: Planning, Zoning and Eminent Domain; and VII. Free Market Conservation. It also includes an elaborate Bibliography, References and Recommended Reading section including an extensive Annotated Bibliography of related and works on the subject.

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Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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One Response to Dakota Rancher Makes Money Replacing Hay With Grazing

  1. futuret says:

    HORSES AND CATTLE CHIMING IN TOGETHER. WE HAVE TO MAKE DUE WITH WHAT WE HAVE, AND GRASS IS NOT READILY AVAILABLE DURING WINTER, DUE TO THE SNOW. IT COULD TURN OUT TO BE HEALTHY FOR THE CATTLE, AND BENEFITS IN THE LONG RUN. STOCKPILES ON EVERYTHING IS RUNNING SHORT, TOO MANY REGULATIONS TO CONSIDER AND NOT LEAVING ISSUES UP TO NATURE AND YAHVEH(GOD), WHO CREATED NATURE. CATTLE CAN BE FED HAY; SINCE HAY WOULD BE IN HARMONY WITH COWS AND BULLS BIOLOGICAL MAKE UP, BUT DEFINITELY ANY RANCHERS, WITH ANY SENSE WOULD NOT FEED A COW OR BULL WITH ANOTHER COW OR BULL. VERY INTERESTING HAY FOR HORSES AND CATTLE, AS A “HOLIDAY EGG NOG” IN THE WINTER MONTHS. I GUESS YOU CAN SAY, EVERYTHING IN MODERATION FOR BOTH HUMANS AND CATTLE. HAY MOM AND DAD THIS IS GOOD!

    Like

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