NRCS FUNDING In spring of 2014, we initiated a process for obtaining possible cost share funding assistance available through Natural Resources Conservation Services, a part of the local Soil and Water Conservation District. The funding, along with a variety of educational services, is available to ranchers who want to improve resource management related to soil, forage, water, wildlife habitat, and timber through implementation of agreed upon conservation practices. Two people from the district office conducted a range (grass) inventory last fall. Just a few weeks ago Sam and Hannibal met with them in a preliminary discussion of the process. It was agreed to move slowly with the application process in order to provide more time for data analysis and planning, and to involve more of us in process, targeting an application for FY 2016. Here are a couple of links: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/weeds/publications/Goat_weed_management.pdfinformation: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/national/programs/?cid=stelprdb1048817
WEED CONTROL Weed control and mitigation continues to be challenge for all of us in the basin and beyond. With our old nemesis, houndstongue, and thistle still infesting areas of the ranch, and newer more invasive weeds like hoary alyssum having arrived in the past ten or so years (from gravel brought into Grizzly Creek during a massive building program), our weed crew (all of us) continue to make weed control a priority through the growing season. As many of you are aware, we acquired twelve head of kid goats in the winter of 2012. With the help of portable electric fence, we’ve moved them from weed patch to weed patch over the last two years. The goats are primarily browsers and readily eat the seeds and flowers on houndstongue, hoary alyssum, knapweed and most other weeds. We’ve learned the importance of continual movement of fence in order not to overgraze already sensitive areas where weeds have established themselves. Summer of 2014 was the first of a three consecutive summer season experimental grazes done by a large (750 head) herd of goats owned by a group of people from the Montana State agriculture college. They arrived on the ranch in a large stock truck accompanied by a herder who stays with them day and night along with his herding and guard dogs. The jury is still out on the goats, but through research and discussion with range health professionals, we are confident this is a good start in the right direction. It could also be a good alternative to broadcast spraying some of the large weed infestations on the ranch. The basic idea is that cattle and horses graze gasses but not bi-annual or perennial deeper-rooted plants (browse). The potential and often real outcome is overgrazing the grasses and thus stressing that part of the system while the “weeds” benefit from having no grazing impact as well as opportunistically competing with and invading the compromised grass system. The goat grazing impacts the “weeds”, while, very importantly, we continue to make our best efforts to implement cattle and horse rotational grazing models that will invigorate the grass systems. In summer of 2015, we plan to have the goats again graze weed patches on the ranch for approximately seven to ten days. They will then move onto other areas in the basin. We have some great pictures of houndstongue plants before and after a quick graze-through. It is impressive how many seeds the goats will eat. If the goat experiment is a success, we should see a dramatic decrease in viable weed plants in the growing season of 2017, three seasons from starting the graze. The cost of the goat weed mitigation program was paid for in 2014 with money from leasing grass to steers from J Bar L, and the same is expected this summer (more on this below). And more to come on the goats! For more information, here is a link to this practice: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/weeds/publications/Goat_weed_management.pdf
TOM MINER BASIN ASSOCIATION In the winter of 2015, an organization was created called the Tom Miner Basin Association (TMBA). Currently, TMBA is an entity created to independently hold funding attained and gathered for projects related to the upper Tom Miner Basin area. Those projects include but are not limited to weed control/range improvement, collective grazing practices, proactive approaches to decrease livestock/predator conflict (range-riding), and, lastly, facilitating ranch/community gatherings where we can come together to develop more effective community relationships. This organization is in its initial stages and open to taking any form we collectively see it taking. Ideas from ALL are welcome. We plan to create a board comprised of members from the community and basin families. Anyone who might be interested in helping us with TMBA, please contact Malou or Hilary. We invite and welcome anyone and everyone to join us on this new adventure. In the summer of 2015, funding has been made available to employ two range riders. TMBA will be the repository for the funding. Hilary will oversee the range-riding program, and do some of the riding herself. Malou will assist with coordination and communication. Hilary will also be overseeing a range-riding program in Centennial Valley, MT.
J BAR L STEERS AND SPAYED HEIFERS (Two-Year-Olds) This will be the third season that the ranch is “finishing” two-year-old steers and spayed heifers on grass for the J Bar L Ranch. Once finished (approximate weight 1200#), the animals are hauled to Columbus, Montana where they are slaughtered. They are sold to Yellowstone Grass Fed Beef and then distributed to several restaurants in Bozeman, Helena, Livingston, Billings, Missoula and more. YGB also has a major contract with University of Montana where its beef is available to students in the university restaurants. YGB sells directly to consumers in Bozeman and Livingston and can ship beef to consumers not living in the area. There is a special satisfaction in visiting some of those restaurants and enjoying a steak or a burger that was finished on Tom Miner grass.
HIGH INTENSITY, SHORT DURATION GRAZING Prior to the 2015 grazing season, we plan to install a semi-permanent electric fence that will allow us to more accurately utilize our forage resource. This fence will make it possible to create grazing paddocks and implement high intensity, short duration grazing. There are many benefits to this grazing practice. What cattle don’t eat is brought down to the soil surface where it is available to microbial life, which then recycles nutrients and minerals back to the soil. This has a positive impact on soil health, plant diversity and vitality, moisture-holding capacity, animal health, and more. Grazing in this manner allows the plants to be grazed once and then given the time they need to recover. We also hope to satisfy these grazing principles through applying low stress livestock handling. Herding cattle and keeping them in a loose bunch is a really rewarding way to impact the rangeland in a positive manner. Additionally, by helping to rekindle their herd instincts, they are better suited to protect themselves from predators. When in a herd, cattle act a lot like buffalo, which are very successful at fending off predators. We would like to mimic that kind of buffalo behavior, not only in terms of mitigating predation, but also from a range management standpoint.
HORSEMANSHIP CLINIC Though there are no dates set yet, but there is talk of hosting a horsemanship clinic in the basin this summer or fall. Randy Rieman, renowned horseman and close friend of Andrew and Hilary, is interested in coming and spending a few days with us on the ranch. What a great way for family and friends to come together, learn more about horses, and enjoy the basin!