Sharing the Bounty of Spring – Providing Food and Shelter for Wildlife, Whether We Want To or Not

This is an exciting time of year here on the ranch. The plants, the animals, and the people are all starting to recover from a difficult winter. Grass is sending up cautious spears to look around and some early forbs are getting busy too. We humans are trying to shift from rubber boots and heavy coats to flip-flops and shorts. Well, let’s not get carried away. One of the most fun things about early spring is that our local birds and mammals start acting goofy, showing off. Our headquarters property is home to several hundred wild turkeys, and they seem to like nothing better than getting in big gangs and strutting around, most often near the highway. This, of course, causes all kinds of traffic snarls. Same goes for the coyotes. They’re done with the mating dance by now, but soon we’ll get to watch the pups tearing around, barking, yipping, and biting each other. And all the rest, the hawks, eagles, falcons, egrets and herons – they’re quite a cast of characters. Some days our pastures look like a runway at an animal fashion show. And besides the free entertainment, even combined, I doubt these critters eat more than a wheelbarrow full of grass each day. And then there are the elk... Our elk are classified as the Rocky Mountain version, although the dividing line is the interstate highway, only ten miles west of here. The

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4 thoughts on “Sharing the Bounty of Spring – Providing Food and Shelter for Wildlife, Whether We Want To or Not

  1. We have a 100 acres of irrigated land and 300 acres of dry land pasture at the foothill of a very large national forest. We have been battling an elk herd of 50 to 150 head for many years. We have used 9 foot fences around our hay stacks and depredation tags from state wildlife agency. We are constantly repairing fences elk have damaged. Elk can destroy a ploy wire fence and string it for a half a mile up the mountain in one night. The Elk graze any stockpile winter forage and all of our early spring forage. They come in at night and eat any hay left in feed bunks making it difficult to feed cows very much at a time. The Elk seem to come on to our farm earlier in the fall and leave later in the spring every year. I am contemplating a 9 foot fence around the crop land so I can stock pile forage. I am also considering moving from a cow calf operation to stocker operation and leasing the farm out in the fall to a hunting group.

    We really need some better solutions to the elk issue. It is very hard to cut winter hay feeding and practice good pasture management/grazing management with a wild elk herd roaming on the ranch that is much larger than our cow herd.

  2. We have our entire grazable acreage of about 13 acres behind an 8 ft high game damage fence. So no elk or deer ever invade. Our State Wildlife will provide materials for game damage fences for orchards, hops, vineyards and other high dollar crops but not for pastures. They also take out a 30 year lien on your property for that. However, we found that having a good fencing contractor put it in without the DOW materials and using higher quality metal pipe pols and high tensile mesh wire was not that much more than hiring a contractor to use the DOW materials. If you use dogs and they chase the elk off that is illegal. Harassing the wildlife is not allowed. An added benefit is that it assists with predation on our sheep flock by slowing down most of the predators like bears, mountain lions and coyotes so that the guardian dogs can get there to protect them.

  3. Hi John,
    Love this article because I’ve been pulling my hair out over the elk I feed each spring and it gives me some consolation to hear an experienced hand is having the same problem 😉
    We have a herd that seems to fluctuate between a handful and as many as 125 last Spring (I only have 44 irrigated acres!). There’s alternative pastures around me, so I’m hoping with pressure the elk will elect some of the NFS land or neighbor’s property.
    We got our first depredation permits last Fall, which was really exciting for all my friends, and we do have less pressure this Spring, but that might be coincidental.
    My big frustration is elk make bale grazing tough/expensive, and I’ve considered getting a livestock guardian dog or similar that might do dual purpose of protecting hay and sheep.
    If anyone has experience with the effectiveness of dogs motivating elk to find a new place, I’d appreciate hearing about it.
    Always enjoy your articles, thanks John!

  4. In the photo of the turkeys, that hen–either a real one or a decoy (makes no difference)–must be giving the gobblers their work assignment for the day. Having the gobblers strut and scratch on the pastures is a wonderful example of how wildlife can help by fertilizing and harrowing.

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