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Ranchers share tips of trade at meeting

No matter the form of education, a person pays tuition. Colleges, online courses, seminars and conferences always charge a fee, but the most expensive tuition usually comes from experience.

At the 2011 Society for Range Management meeting, four ranchers recently shared insights they gained from their experiences so others might have to pay less.

Jim Faulstich bought his family’s Highmore, S.D., ranch in 1973. The mid-1980s “were a sad time. People sold out of cattle, businesses, and banks failed. We knew something had to change,” he said.

Key Points

Ranchers share insights gained from their experiences.

“There’s no destination, it’s all a journey,”one says.

The four graziers’ advice focused on diversity.

A different management philosophy earned Faulstich and his wife, Carol, the Region 7 Environmental Stewardship Award in 2009.

Blain Hjerdas started farming in Saskatchewan right after college in the 1970s, sure that emerging technology would solve the problems surrounding his farm. “Every year, I spent a fortune trying to control weeds, but I was treating the symptom, not the problem,” Hjerdas said.

Fossil fuel use, the symptoms of climate change and his desire to be a part of the solution caused Hjerdas to switch from farming to livestock grazing. Now, pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep and cattle graze on his land.

Ray Bannister raises cattle on a Montana ridge between the Little Missouri and the Yellowstone rivers where “everything is either up or down. There’s no flat,” he said. Bannister designed a feast-or-famine, 39-cell grazing system modeled after nature’s boom-and-bust.

A section at a time

In an area where carrying capacity averages 36 acres per cow, he needs 23 acres. Bannister allows 250 head to graze a quarter section for 15 to 20 days and then allows that cell to rest for two growing seasons. “It takes about three years to get the cattle to do what you want them to do. Eventually, they eat it or die,” said the Wibaux rancher.

Turtle Lake, N.D., cattle producer Gene Goven thought he was a grass manager, but by the end of the 1980s, he realized he better be a soil health manager. Now, Goven uses cross-fencing, pasture rest, prescribed burning, dung beetles and bale feeding to improve the soil and water cycle on his ranch. He has increased the pounds of beef produced per acre by 340% since the early ’80s.

It’s a journey

“I finally get one thing figured out and then I need three more. There is no destination; it’s all a journey,” Goven said.

Each of the four graziers’ advice focused on diversity. From Hjerdas’ pigs plowing through the aspens in Saskatchewan to Faulstich’s cattle and hunting enterprises in South Dakota, each of these models of success emphasized the importance of a broad range of plants and animals.

“Manage for the whole, not a specific species,” said Goven.

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A LESSON IN ANTLERS: Jim Faulstich often hosts university students at his Daybreak Ranch to teach them the tips and tricks of grazing management and how grazing can benefit livestock, wildlife and the land all at once.

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HABITAT CAFÉ: Whitetail deer spend long winters at Daybreak Ranch. The Faulstich family provide feed and cover for them — all in the name of economic and environmental sustainability.

This article published in the October, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.