Finally we’re at our second post of the year with some updates from the past year. Apologies for taking so long. Just as expected, the summer and fall went by quickly with a lot packed into the days. This has proven to be a good winter project. And with at least a foot of new snow on the ground this morning, there’s no better time than now. Hoping you all are healthy and well! Here’s to a great year ahead for all of us. Hoping to see you all in 2016!
Yellowstone Grass-fed Beef:
Approximately 120 two-year old steers/spayed heifers finished on grass for a second year at the ranch from the Yellowstone Grass-finished Beef program. Every other week, these steers were brought to the corrals, weighed, and the 14 heaviest were sent to Columbus where they were slaughtered immediately and sent to a variety of restaurants and grocery stores throughout Montana. Approximately 20 of these animals were sent to Estancia Grass-fed Beef, a highly-regarded, national grass-fed beef company who prides itself on many of the same principles as Yellowstone Grass-fed Beef including humane and low-stress livestock handling, sustainable grazing practices, land stewardship, and food safety. Coincidentally, young Sam accepted a position this year working for Estancia as the Eastern Region Business Development Manager. An exciting connection for him and the ranch! This summer’s grazing program was an over-all success and with the use of portable, electric fencing, these cattle uniformly grazed through the upper and lower desert, Morrison Place and other areas creating a positive impact in soil health, plant diversity and overall landscape health. Not to mention, they all left after having gained substantial weight with a happy, relaxed end-of-life. In the near future, we’d like to start investigating new ideas for utilizing positive-impact grazing in areas of the ranch where water sources could be improved upon with the help of our potential work with the NRCS (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/national/home/).
The large herd (over a thousand!) of weed-eating goats came and went with what looks to be another positive impact year. This marks the second year of a three year experimental large scale, short-duration graze through weed patches on the ranch, mostly Houndstongue and Knapweed as well as Caraway and Hoary Alyssum. While the large herd focused approximately 2 weeks on the larger patches, our resident Anderson goats spent the summer and fall grazing thistle patches, Houndstongue and the dreaded Knapweed patch near the entrance of the logging road. Attached are a few photos from this summer’s goat weed impact. The goal of the experimental goat graze is to have a greater impact on the weeds, making it easier for the diverse grass species to thrive and grow back in areas where weed patches have taken over. Goat manure is highly beneficial to soil makeup and very few (weed) seeds survive the grinding motion of goat’s teeth and digestive system. After the large herd finished at our place, they went onto B Bar Ranch for another couple of weeks to finish up their summer grazing season before they headed to the southwest where they’re used to graze fire breaks and roadways.
This summer proved to be an exciting and concerning season for the School house. Using the site Airbnb, the school house turned into a nightly/weekly vacation rental for tourists visiting Yellowstone. This proved to be a major success and the school house earned itself a beautiful, new cedar-shake roof (Montana Historical Society also provided financial assistance for the roof as part of a Montana historical program) as well as a few other small updates including new siding on the mudroom/front area. The vacation rental will continue into next summer with the 2016 revenue going towards new windows and much-needed rock/pointing restoration.
While attempting to drill a new and needed water well, the driller hit what is called an “artesian aquifer”, which is similar to hitting a main vessel of water under the ground. This water (400-600 gallons/minute) came shooting out of the ground and was initially unable to be capped by the driller. Large-scale equipment and men from the oil fields came with thousands of pounds of concrete and bentonite to cap the well. It was quite a nail-biter for about a week or so but thankfully the capping was a success. A new well still needs to be drilled but likely in a new location, which will happen in the spring.
As many of you are aware, the Tom Miner Basin Association was created last winter with the hopes to create a group of landowners, neighbors and local agencies interested in working together to strengthen the landscape and relationships in our Tom Miner community, which includes the people, wildlife, landscape, and livestock. We are now in the stage of creating a mission statement and a board of members. Furthermore, we are continuing efforts to achieve funding for projects that pertain to landscape and wildlife health, sustainable grazing practices and strengthening the relationships of residents and land-owners. Tom Miner Basin continues to be a unique ranching community where our current efforts work towards the coexistence of people, wildlife and livestock while contributing to a diverse and healthy ecosystem.
In June, TMBA (with great effort from Hilary) along with a few local agencies organized and held a gathering of ranchers and wildlife agencies from throughout Montana and the Northwest. It was held in the upper basin, between B Bar, Grizzly Creek and our place. The gathering was an educational seminar as well as an open-ended place for dialogue pertaining to the challenges of ranching and living in areas where there are predators. Additionally there was an entire day focused on soil and range health (taught by Roland Croos, Instructor in Holistic Range Management) and Low-stress Livestock Handling (taught by Whit Hibbard, one of Bud William’s former students and now the face and name of the Low-stress Livestock Handling movement). Other speakers included Hilary, Vern Smith, Abby Nelson (Fish,Wildlife, and Parks), and Hannibal. The gathering was a success and proved to be something worth having again. Rachael also happened to be visiting during one of the talks and walked down from the Morrison Cabin to join and listen.
This past summer was the second year program of the TMBA Range Riding program. Three range riders, employed by the TMBA, rode through the upper basin cattle herds (Anderson’s, Hubbard’s and Grizzly Creek) once/twice a day. These riders were responsible for keeping cattle bunched together in order to rekindle the herd instinct, an essential natural tool to ward off predators in wild herd animals like buffalo. They also collected and maintained data of wolf/bear migration paths and dens and communicated immediately with land-owners/agencies when there were observed livestock losses. MT Livestock Loss Board reimburses ranchers for predator losses if the evidence is clear and immediate. Range Riders and ranchers who work alongside agencies like Wildlife Services and Fish, Wildlife and Parks have a far greater opportunity to be reimbursed for livestock losses due to predators. Next summer, the Range Riding program will continue along with other practices including the use of portable electric fencing, carcass removal, and other sustainable ranching and preventative measure techniques. Tom Miner has become an example of how these programs can be successful in a complex ecosystem with added challenges existing in a variety of forms. Many agencies and rancher’s are taking notice to this progressive and successful trend and as said before, have traveled to the basin to learn more about what these programs look like. If you’re interested in becoming a member of TMBA, please feel free to email Hannibal, Malou or Hilary. Attached are some photos taken from this past summer’s camera traps located around the ranch and of one of our Range Rider, Bree. Some of these photos are from National Geographic photographers who have been following the Yellowstone predator/rancher story closely for an upcoming article in their magazine. Please note the dates on the trap camera are not correct.
The above picture was taken near the Morrison Cabin, after a camera trap was placed near a steer who was put-down due to illness. The elk and wolf were taken in Section 1.
The New Barn
Sam’s new barn is coming along beautifully. Matt plans to start the interior work in the next couple of weeks. The exterior looks close to complete with siding coming. A small crew of men worked daily through the summer and made significant progress in construction with Matt overseeing the work and progress. This will definitely be an extremely useful building with ample room for equipment, livestock and workable space through the winter and all year.
The horsemanship clinic
The planned horsemanship clinic took place in August and was a success. For three days, horsemanship basics and more advanced techniques were practiced and revisited under the instruction of Randy Rieman (http://www.westernhorseman.com/archive/horsemanship/2019-ask-our-expert-randy-rieman), which proved to be valuable for those involved. Time was spent in the afternoons starting two ranch-raised colts as well. Multiple family members and neighbors were part of the clinic. Our hope is to continue evolving into a location where a variety of educational experiences can take place. If anyone is interested in joining a similar clinic next summer, let us know and we’ll start looking at potential dates that could work for everyone.
And that’s about it for this update, family. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the happenings from this past summer. If you’d like to see anything else on this blog or have any feedback, please email me Malou. Thoughts and suggestions are always welcome.
I’ll leave you with a sweet picture of Ezra, who peacefully died in his sleep last week. As Hannibal said, “…Ezra had such a presence and held space so steadily for us all.” We are very sad to see him go, but all have such appreciation and gratitude for his many years of loving and protecting this place and it’s people.
Much love to all of you! Happy Holiday and here’s to a great year ahead in your lives as well as here, at the beautiful place we all share.