Sunday, June 16, 2024
HomeGrazing ManagementThree Keys to Being a Successful Grazier

Three Keys to Being a Successful Grazier

In this video, we take a trip to Nye, Montana to visit the Keogh Ranch. It’s been in the family since Noel Keogh’s folks purchased it in 1947. It may be larger than the operation you run, but his management addresses the challenges that each grazier faces: Managing for good grass utilization with fencing and water, finding ways to graze through the winter, and solving problems with wildlife.

Enjoy the video and then I’ll focus in on some of the solutions below and how you can use them.

Two Heads (or more) are Better Than One

In this picture, Noel is holding up a list of the projects he’s completed with the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, his county weed district, the Farm Bureau, stock associations, extension staff and more. This is just back of the paper. The front of the paper includes even more projects.

At the top is the list of accomplishments from their 2010 Conservation Stewardship Project that includes a grazing plan and monitoring system, supplementing away from water, implementing wildlife friendly haying, soil testing and slow release fertilizer. You’ll see more projects below.

Notice that Noel put a big star next to “Access to the Knowledge Base & Technology NRCS has” as he’s found that very helpful. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the graziers who are most successful and happiest are those who make it a point to work with local agencies and get involved in their communities. Consider that as you look around your operation and think about what you’d like to do with it.

Some Kind of Rotational Grazing Will Give You More Year-round Feed

Monitoring is an important part of grazing management. This is a utilization cage Noel uses to compare ungrazed grass species with grazed grasses. It helps him watch for changes so that he can be sure he’s not overgrazing. What do you use at your place?

“When I was a kid this was essentially a four-pasture ranch and now I’ve got three different areas, grazing zones,” says Noel. Each of those zones is further fenced into five to eight smaller pastures with livestock water tanks. NRCS helped to plan and implement the livestock water system in one of the grazing zones through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The system is 7.5 miles of pipeline with eight water tanks.

Noel says that grazing plan along with the water system have “really helped us increase our utilization or get our utilization more even throughout the pastures instead of the riparian areas and the bottoms being grazed out. It’s been a real environmental plus for us having the NRCS and their experience and their knowledge and their assistance helping us put programs and projects together.”

But note that his paddocks are still quite large, and he only runs about 100 cow/calf pairs. His rotation is set up for the amount of forage his arid landscape produces. That’s something important to think about when you’re considering the number of paddocks you need and how often you will move your livestock.

The key for Noel is managing for high quality forage. “High-quality native range can satisfy a cow’s needs just about all conditions of the year, except for a couple really deep, long snow storms,” he says.

Make Adjustments for Wildlife

Wildlife can wreak havoc on fences and water tanks. So Noel has adjusted with their needs in mind. He lowers the top wire and raises the bottom wire of his three-wire fences so that elk go over more easily, and deer and small animals can go under. He also added a wire cage to water floats in his tanks so the black bear can’t play with them anymore.

You may not have deer or elk, and you may be more worried about impacts on your temporary electric fencing. I always found it helpful to make sure I wasn’t fencing across a wildlife trail, and when wildlife were nearby, I put up and electrified my temporary fencing, for a few days before I moved stock into them. That way the wildlife got used to them, and if necessary, I could fix fence and not worry about goats running away.

What kinds of adjustments would you make?

Those are some of the ideas I take from Noel’s example. Are there others that you’d like to add? Please share in the comments below!

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. I hesitate to make any suggestions to one who lives on that piece of land and has taken care of it (with advisors) for a long time. I would suggest that all of us consider designating a piece of our land (grazing, crop) and give it a rest periodically for the good of the land in the widest sense–ground-nesting birds, for example. I do this in my garden and pasture paddocks.

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