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Three Keys to Being a Successful Grazier

By   /  September 21, 2020  /  1 Comment

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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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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

1 Comment

  1. Curt and Betsey Gesch says:

    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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