Western Sustainability Exchange Logo
winter forage for cattle showing dead grass and snow

Ruminate On This: Winter Grazing

By Meagan Lannan

“There are some things we need to start talking about…”
Roger Indreland, rancher Big Timber, MT

 

Pondering some different tactics to make a positive impact on your business? Western Sustainability Exchange (WSE) has created this discussion to highlight our members who are doing just that.

Winter feeding might be a good place to start improving profitability since substitute feed (spreading baled hay) is often the largest input on most conventional ranching operations. For this post, we will feature Roger Indreland of Indreland Angus, located north of Big Timber, and Pete Lannan of Barney Creek Livestock, located south of Livingston.

Run the Numbers

Winter feed is expensive. Many operations fire up the tractor or pickup daily to feed. Every day you operate a piece of equipment, you need to include labor, fuel, repairs, and depreciation in accounting for expenditures. You raised the hay crop, so it belongs to the ranch, correct? If your cattle enterprise can’t pay for this commodity, then maybe you should sell it for a fair market price. Take an honest look at your feeding system and run the numbers. Once you have a good idea of where you are sitting with winter feeding costs, consider alternatives.

Field Notes

WSE caught up with Roger Indreland to discuss winter feeding. Fifteen years ago, he realized that equipment costs were one of the biggest stumbling blocks, specifically, “…the cost of hay in terms of delivery, machine maintenance, and labor.” Roger noted that “…in the winter, equipment complications (are inevitable) when needing to start something every day.” So over the next several years, he made gradual adjustments to his winter feed regime. As he simultaneously adapted his genetics toward a lower maintenance animal, his winter feeding went from two tons of hay over a continuous 120-day winter period to less than half a ton scattered as needed over those same winter months. He reduced his equipment use and tried winter grazing alternatives on stockpiled feed reserves. Roger notes that if you have “welfare cows, you will have some fallout.”  In other words, cows need to be adapted to this type of system over a period of time.

Choosing a calving season that fits with this strategy is also important (more on that in following posts). When using lower quality forages, be prepared to supplement protein. Roger keeps enough supplemental feed on hand to weather whatever Mother Nature might deal them in the form of severe winter conditions.

The winter of 2017-2018 in the Sweetgrass and Park Counties is a good example. Pete Lannan suggests not pushing livestock too hard early in winter and keeping a close eye on body condition. He believes it is far easier to maintain body condition on cattle early than trying to put condition back on later. He suggests that stockpiled feed will be available as long as deep, crusted snow doesn’t prevent access, albeit at a lower quality and quantity. Over the winter months of 2018, Pete figures he saved one ton of hay per cow. Running the numbers shows that’s an additional $130-$150 profit per cow over the previous year.

dead grass.JPG
QUALITY WINTER GRAZING MATERIAL:  From the pickup window, you might suspect that dormant forage has very little potential for quality feed for your cows. A closer look might surprise you with more green than you would expect! (Left-windshield view, Right-a closer look reveals a great mix of forage from the cow’s view)  Photos taken on the Indreland Ranch on Jan. 23, 2019. Another forage quality photo from early February in Turner, MT.

 

 

Alternatives to Consider

Here are some methods that can decrease your winter substitute feeding program, increase profits, and benefit your bottom line.

  1. Stockpiling is when you defer hay/pasture fields for use during the dormant season. One of the most efficient ways to utilize this stockpiled forage can be strip grazing, although strategies vary depending on your situation.
  2. Strip grazing is allocating standing forage for a set amount of time: for example, allowing one herd of cows enough pasture to last them one day. Jim Gerrish details this practice in his book Kick the Hay Habit. This is a simple way for a producer to stretch their dormant pastures longer. Utilizing strip grazing, even with regrowth on hay meadows, can stretch grazing days by as much as two times.
  3. Swath grazing amounts to leaving swaths of standing forage in the field, then grazing it during the dormant season. This practice saves baling, hauling, and handling costs. Additionally, cutting the crop preserves forage quality while distributing nutrients over a greater area than conventional feeding. This practice has been used in Western Canada for many years. There are even producers in California who utilize swath grazing during their drought season.
  4. Bale grazing is setting out hay ahead of feeding and regulating access to bales based on need. This can be done once in the season or weekly, depending on the situation. Feed can be allocated daily, weekly, or anywhere in between. Typically, electric fencing is used to limit access to hay. Again, producers in Western Canada have been using this strategy for years. There are many soil health benefits that have been attributed to bale grazing, including significant increases in organic matter as well as concentrated animal herd impacts that help break down plant litter and soil crust.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/TpvaXSl6iiY” title=”YouTube video player” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>

 

Additional Resources:

https://onpasture.com/2014/11/03/strip-grazing-stockpiled-forages/   (Strip Grazing)

https://www.canadiancattlemen.ca/2017/10/27/steve-kenyon-winter-grazing-options-for-cattle/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIHDmlUQ-1o  (Winter Grazing-A Better Way to Feed)

https://onpasture.com/2017/01/30/more-farmers-are-winter-grazing/

https://www.agrireseau.net/bovinsboucherie/documents/00105%20p.pdf

Recent Posts

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.

For over thirty years, Roger and Betsy have regenerated the landscape by placing value in building soil health and increasing biodiversity to complement Mother Nature’s system. As Roger says, “Our soil is the key to our success, so decisions are made with that in mind.”

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.

Dylan Hoffman is the Director of Sustainability for Yellowstone National Park Lodges. He oversees park-wide environmental efforts, compliance issues, and programs to curb the park’s contribution to climate change. In addition to his passion for helping to protect our environment, Dylan enjoys recreating in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem – including floating our local rivers, Nordic and backcountry skiing, hunting, or waving around a fly rod. Dylan lives in Gardiner, MT, with his partner, Erin, and their two little girls, Steely and Merrick.

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

Rebecca Kurnik loves all things soil. She discovered this through her work on farms in Maine and Montana and, as a result, got her B.S. in Soil and Water Science from MSU, followed by an M.S. Ed. Agricultural Education. Through her work in local food systems over the last 15 years, she has helped small farmers and ranchers grow to sell products through Montana-based distributors and led the sustainability initiatives at the busiest restaurant in Montana, including a post-consumer composting program and a 50kW solar array installation. She is honored to help fulfill WSE’s mission through her participation on the Board.

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. 

These experiences gave her the prowess to implement regenerative agriculture practices and develop market-based conservation strategies to ensure a healthy, long standing, and profitable relationship between nature and innovative land stewards. 

Lill loves her community of Livingston, spending as much time as work allows adventuring with friends in nature, and caring for and cavorting with her two dogs and two cats.

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.

Mascari’s passion for taking care of the planet and the people who inhabit it is a perfect fit for WSE and the Farmers Market program. She and her husband, Jason, have three children and can often be found at soccer games, enjoying the great outdoors, or simply relaxing at their home on the Yellowstone River.

Chris Mehus program director-211108_laurendillonphotography_halverson_ranch_native_energy

Chris Mehus, born, raised, and educated in Montana, has always maintained a joint passion for agriculture and the outdoors. He has applied his degrees in Wildlife Biology and Range Science to assist and advocate for ranchers who have a strong conservation ethic. After 10 years of direct ranching in Southern Montana putting his education to practice in numerous areas of grazing management and planning, Chris spent many years working in rural business, economic, and financial planning giving him unique insight into the workings of a ranch business to understand economic drivers and incentives that make ranching with nature a more profitable operating model than typical conventional practices. He is an outspoken advocate for the Ranching For Profit, Integrity Soils, Holistic Management International, and related schools of thought and how they can be applied to create a thriving ranch business while creating healthy, functioning ecological systems with rich soil and diverse wildlife populations.

Alex Blake is a regenerative rancher from Big Timber and a producer coordinator
for WSE. He lives and works on the ranch and tree nursery his parents started in 1973 on a foundation of deep appreciation for the natural environment. Alex holds a Master’s in Agribusiness from Texas A&M University but has gotten most of his agrarian education from hands-on experience on farms and ranches in places as diverse as Kenya and Argentina. He enjoys being a part of the progressive rancher support network in south-central Montana and draws inspiration from those who are constantly challenging old ranching paradigms. He was an artillery Captain in the United States Marine Corps and is a proud husband and father to a two-year-old daughter.

Mark Ledger, former banker and WSE board member

Mark Ledger has been a member of the board since 2005, having served as Chair twice during that time.  Professionally, Mark’s career has involved  international finance,  business counseling and private equity.  Having spent all of his high school summers as a hand on a family cattle ranch in Big Timber, he has long standing ties in the area and retains a personal interest in agricultural and environmental sustainability.   Mark serves on the boards of multiple non-profits, including land trusts, inner-city homelessness, urban micro-finance and a foundation dedicated to underserved populations.  He and his wife, Ann, live in Pennsylvania and have two children and four grandsons.

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.