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Beaver complex at J Bar L Ranch's Crazy D Ranch in Melville, MT

Bugs, Bovine, and Beavers, Oh My!

J Bar L Ranch Highlights the Necessity of Animal Diversity

What does it mean to be “regenerative”? This question is getting a lot of buzz these days. As we know, there is no real definitive answer–it’s a continually evolving experiment that can only be answered individually, within one’s context, which is why it is so important to actively listen and learn from others making a similar journey. 

One way to do this is by attending ranch tours. Andrew Anderson and Hilary Zaranek-Anderson of J Bar L Ranch did just that earlier this month on their Crazy D Ranch just north of Big Timber. The two hosted a thoughtful and thorough tour during which they explained what it means for them to be regenerative. “We kind of had this epiphany not long ago that a lot of what we did on the ranch, if not, pretty much everything revolved around livestock production. And what we started realizing was that goal was really contradictory to a nature first approach,” Hilary explained. “Production agriculture takes shortcuts and manipulates natural systems for the sake of producing one species in excess.

“‘We had to flip our paradigm to–‘how are we going to adjust ourselves to serve the land?’, as opposed to ‘how is the land going to serve us?’”

 

andrew anderson during a ranch tour at j bar l ranch. hilary zaranek on regenerative ranch tour

 

Their regenerative journey focuses on biodiversity, soil health, and water–and throughout the tour, these three areas were front and center. 

Biodiversity

As we walked into a pasture on the north side of the property we soon learned that what looked like a camping tent set up in the middle of a pasture was in fact an insect trap. Bugs are an amazing  way to better understand biodiversity–just ask Hilary, whom you could tell was very passionate on the subject. “Bugs are one incredible way to look at, measure, monitor, and understand biodiversity,” Hilary said.

“Above ground and below ground, bugs are the beginning.” 

 

insect monitoring on j bar l ranch. insect monitoring on j bar l ranch

 

Partnering with the University of Guelph, in Canada, J Bar L Ranch is creating a library of bugs. Their goal is to collect 9,627 insect species. After the bugs are cataloged, they will set up traps and monitor the insect activity before, during, and after the cattle graze, which will tell them if they are increasing or decreasing bug species throughout the grazing season.

The other area they have been carefully studying is Dung Beetle activity. Both Andrew and Hilary are aware that they have an imbalance on the ranch in regards to old manure being broken down. Because the Crazy D is used strictly for winter grazing, the beetles do not have the opportunity to decompose fresh manure. “There are certain Dung Beetle species that are responsible for different things,” Andrew explained. “And one of the species we are possibly lacking here are the ones that take this dry stuff that’s laid down in the middle of the winter, and by the time it hits the growing season, and the microbial life is really flourishing, something needs to take this and break it down.”

J Bar L no longer use pour-on and other cattle pesticides to encourage the beetle population, and because they removed that element out of the equation, they can now begin to focus on why there is still a disruption in the process. 

Water

For decades, beavers have been persecuted as villains in waterways throughout the West. Over the past generations, however, mankind has forgotten the need for all creatures in all ecosystems. With the drought looming over the state for the last several years, and the discussion of the importance of water, beavers should be making a comeback. It was apparent, on the Crazy D, that after just three years of letting the beavers inhabit the ranch, they had more water than ever before–even during one of the driest years on record. “Beavers on this ranch were trapped and hunted for decades. When we came here three years ago, there was not a single piece of wood in the creek; not a single sign of beaver except for some old chewing,” Hilary reflected. “The amount of water now that we’re capturing and holding is so exciting.” Currently, the creek that runs through the ranch has at least ten dams and numerous others on smaller channels. As we glanced out across the creek bed, you could see the new groves of cottonwoods and willows popping up from the marshy meadows caused by the beaver dams. 

 

coexisting with beavers in montana  beaver pond at crazy d ranch in montana

 

Soil Health

Andrew and Hilary understand the importance of improving their soil health and that by doing so, the rest will follow–increased biodiversity and better water. They continue to set up smaller grazing paddocks in pastures and bale graze in troubled spots.

Hilary perfectly summarized what it means to them to be regenerative–

“Instead of being the last generation that’s going to make it work,
how can we be the first to adopt a new paradigm
and actually see as far forward into the future
as we like to think we’ve seen looking back.”

For upcoming tours please visit our events page or subscribe to our newsletter.

 

cottonwood regrowth on j bar l ranch in melville montana

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Lauren Dillon received her B.S. in Visual Communications from the University of California, Davis. Lauren became passionate about working with missional companies that dared to challenge the status quo after a few years spent working for Patagonia. In 2012 Lauren seized an opportunity to move to Wyoming and consequently spent eight years working seasonally across the West as a photographer–each year becoming more interested in the intersection of ranching and conservation. Lauren made her way to Montana in 2017 to manage the guest program at J Bar L Ranch–a regenerative, grass-fed beef operation and one of WSE’s partners–where she quickly became fascinated by learning about soil health ranch’s land management and conservation projects. Lauren is excited to continue supporting land stewardship and regenerative producers through her work on the Communications and Farmers’ Market teams.

Carrie Balkcom is the Executive Director of the American Grassfed Association. AGA is the National multi-species entity organized to protect and promote Grassfed and pasture-based farmers and ranchers.

AGA is the leader in pasture-based production and the oldest grass-fed certification in the United States. AGA certifies ruminants and dairy.
Carrie grew up on a Florida cattle ranch and has stayed connected to the agriculture and livestock industry. She has spoken, presented, or coordinated numerous regional and national conferences; and is well known in agricultural, culinary, and sustainable agricultural circles.

WSE communications manager Holly stoltz

Holly Stoltz’s greatest passion has always been helping people in the agricultural community. Throughout her career, she has revitalized a small-town newspaper, promoted businesses and organizations with her screen printing and embroidery business, actively mentored area business start-ups, and supported the 4-H program as club organization leader and activist.

Montana ranch-raised and marrying into a family ranch, agriculture has always been a part of her life.  Because of this, her degree in marketing, writing experience, and seeing the need to shift away from traditional ag practices, Holly has become a vocal supporter of regenerative agriculture as the only way to secure this legacy for future generations.

Colin McClure is a proud Bobcat Fan and a 3rd generation graduate from Montana State University in Soil and Water Science. As a 4th generation Montana descendant with ties to active farming and ranching operations in the Flathead as well as central Montana, Colin was raised in and around agriculture. Colin is strongly rooted in both traditional and regenerative agricultural practices focusing on improving the livelihood of all Montanans.

Lara Birkes is an environmental + social impact professional with over fifteen years of experience managing partnerships, sustainability initiatives, ESG reporting, and policy engagement with companies, international organizations, governments, start-ups, and NGOs. Her passion for WSE’s work stems from the opportunity to address climate change through regenerative agriculture practices. Lara is fortunate to call Paradise Valley home.

Roger Indreland, together with his wife Betsy, own and manages Indreland Angus, north of Big Timber, Montana. Roger is a third-generation rancher with a Farm & Ranch Management degree from Montana State University and forty-four years in the registered Angus business. Roger has found his niche in the grass-fed bull business, hosting an annual bull sale each December.

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In 2020, the Sweet Grass Chamber of Commerce honored them as “Ag Persons of the Year” and were nominated in 2021 as “Tow Rope Heroes” by the Northern Ag Network

Brittany Masters is the co-founder of Go Roam Free, a regenerative bison ranch and food business. As a first-generation rancher, Brittany brings her brand marketing and strong business sense to the world of sustainable animal agriculture. Brittany is passionate about developing brands and premium health products. Brittany spent 9 years as a Marketing Director at the Boeing Company, where she focused on reviving the Boeing brand and serving as a brand consultant to airline customers. During that time, she launched a startup food brand in the Middle East and finished her MBA at Seattle Pacific University. As WSE’s Secretary, Brittany hopes to help family-scale ranches transition to regenerative agriculture while improving their profitability in order to preserve the best of the west.

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Andrew Anderson, manager of J Bar L Ranch in Montana

Andrew Anderson is originally from Tom Miner Basin, where his family ranch is located. Currently, he manages J Bar L Ranches in the Centennial Valley and Melville, MT. His wife Hilary and four children have worked on the J Bar L for 13 years, helping to manage cow/calf, yearling, and grass-fed beef enterprises. They feel incredibly fortunate to ranch in wild and complex ecosystems and continually strive to learn how to preserve these unique places’ health, diversity, and integrity.

Malou Anderson-Ramierz resides on her family ranch in Tom Miner Basin, Montana, where she and her husband Dre live and work while raising their two daughters, Esme and Hasell. Aside from working on the ranch and learning about holistic management systems, she has psychology, social work, and equine-assisted therapies background. Malou enjoys working in community-building and land-based practices. Helping people and communities reconnect to themselves through restoring landscapes, coexisting with wildlife, and creating strong and thriving communities for both human and the more-than-human. When she’s not on the ranch or tending to kiddos, animals, or listening to lands, she loves exploring newfound communities- both urban and rural, reading, riding her horse, and sitting next to the ocean.

Matt Skoglund of North Bridger Bison, WSE board

Matt Skoglund is the founder and owner of North Bridger Bison, a bison ranch rooted in Regenerative Agriculture principles located in Montana’s Shields Valley. Prior to starting North Bridger Bison, Matt was the Director of the Northern Rockies Office for the Natural Resources Defense Council, where he worked on various conservation issues in Montana and the Northern Rockies for a decade. Matt is a graduate of Middlebury College and the University of Illinois College of Law. He is passionate about food and ranching, and he loves to hunt, garden, cook, and forage for morel mushrooms in the spring. Matt and his wife, Sarah, have two young kids, Otto and Greta.

Rebecca Kurnick of Montana Aleworks

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Lill Erickson, the executive director of Western Sustainability Exchanage

Lill Erickson has deep conviction to protect the incomparable landscape, wildlife, and way of life of the rural West, especially Montana. In 1994 Lill founded Western Sustainability Exchange to do just that.  Leading up to it’s conception,  Lill was an organizer for conservation nonprofits throughout the west, caretaker of a cattle ranch bordering Yellowstone National Park, and an advisor to a national committee to craft a strategy to promote agricultural sustainability. 

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Lauren Dillon received her B.S. in Visual Communications from the University of California, Davis. Lauren became passionate about working with missional companies that dared to challenge the status quo after a few years spent working for Patagonia. In 2012 Lauren seized an opportunity to move to Wyoming and consequently spent eight years working seasonally across the West as a photographer–each year becoming more interested in the intersection of ranching and conservation. Lauren made her way to Montana in 2017 to manage the guest program at J Bar L Ranch–a regenerative, grass-fed beef operation and one of WSE’s partners–where she quickly became fascinated by learning about soil health ranch’s land management and conservation projects. Lauren is excited to continue supporting land stewardship and regenerative producers through her work on the Communications and Farmers’ Market teams.

WSE livingston farmers market manager Shannan Mascari

Shannan Mascari joined the Western Sustainability Exchange (WSE) team in 2019 as Office Administrator and Farmers Market Manager. Mascari attended Chico State University in Chico, California prior to moving to Montana in 1996. Upon moving here, she became a certified nursing assistant, caring for the elderly, before moving on to an administrative position with a wetlands restoration company. There, her hard work and dedication earned her the title of Vice President of Operations. She has over 18 years of administrative and managerial experience.

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Mark Ledger, former banker and WSE board member

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Tyrrell Hibbard enjoyed an upbringing in agriculture and conservation and today serves as a producer coordinator and senior advisor for WSE. Tyrrell is a rancher by day and distiller by night. He manages a seasonal custom grazing operation on his family’s multi-generational ranchland on the Continental Divide west of Helena. He also owns and operates Gulch Distillers in downtown Helena, producing award-winning spirits from Montana grains and fruits. When not actively engaged in agriculture or adding value to agricultural products, Tyrrell pursues conservation goals through WSE and Prickly Pear Land Trust. He serves on the board of directors. Tyrrell earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Duke University. He lives in Helena with his wife and two daughters.