Last week, I had an opportunity to attend the Montana Winter Grazing Seminar in Missoula. This annual event attracted over 200 attendees from ranches and conservation programs, mostly from Western portions of the state. Speakers, panels and breakout workshops covered a number of topics focused on grazing management and feeding strategies, especially during winter months.
For most folks, near-year-round grazing isn’t something that comes to mind when picturing the long, cold and snow-covered winters in Montana. However, several examples were on hand showing ranchers the opportunities available to expand the grazing season utilizing stockpiled forages and management intensive grazing practices. Storing forages as hay or winter feed costs can be one of the greatest expenses for livestock operations. So, any given opportunity to reduce these costs helps producers better manage their operation to be more profitable and sustainable.
Steve Kenyon, Greener Pastures Ranching, from Alberta was opening speaker for the seminar. Steve shared some great insight and examples from his business model that have allowed him to succeed in custom grazing, including the pillars of production, economics and the most important human resources. As he explained, great plans may work on paper, but we must have the resources (employees or livestock) to execute those plans.
Kenyon operates a year-round custom grazing operation with his family with minimal inputs, managing the resources of cattle, forage and soil management, along with attention to sustainable grazing methods. He emphasized the need to focus on the need for management to focus on the long-term solutions for problems rather than quick fixes offered today.
Dr. Steve Fransen, Forage Crops Specialist with Washington State University Extension, offered attendees a quick dive into lessons in plant physiology. During the course of his presentation, ranchers learned about nutrient uptake for different classes of grasses and legumes grown in the Northwest. Fransen walked through the growth processes for common species of forages used for grazing and hay production and showed how stubble height affects the amount of time needed for regrowth and energy stores in the plant.
A panel discussion followed that offered a number of different perspectives on grazing management throughout the year. Panel participants included Kenyon and Fransen, along with Ric Caquelin – Rancher and NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist from Great Falls, Dave Scott – Rancher and Livestock Specialist from National Center for Appropriate Technology, and Race King – Ranch Manager at La Cense Ranch in Dillon. Each panelist provide examples from their experience in managing livestock to reduce inputs and to extend the grazing season. Each perspective offered insight from different sized operations that connected with diverse backgrounds in the audiences.
The Seminar’s second day offered a number of breakout sessions to give attendees different perspectives on forage and grazing management that can impact the amount of resources needed to feed livestock through the winter months. Workshops included:
- Steven C. Fransen, Ph.D. – “Maximizing Pasture Production”
- Steve Kenyon – “Bale Grazing, Swath Grazing and Managing Leased Pastures”
- Rick Caquelin – “Animal Nutrition and Monitoring”
- Dave Scott – “Dormant Season Grazing on Irrigated Pasture”
- Race King – “Intensive Grazing Mgt. under Pivot Irr.”
- Josh Schrecengost – Biologist, NRCS, Great Falls: “Maximizing Wildlife Habitat Grazing”
- Ann Fischer – Rancher, District Conservationist, NRCS, Baker, MT: “Alternative Forage Options – Cover Crops”
- Matt Ricketts – State Forester, NRCS, MT: “Forestland Grazing Dynamics and Nutrition”
- Krist Walstad, District Conservationist, NRCS, Joliet, MT: “Grazing for Weed Control”
- Five Valleys Land Trust: “Conservation Easements on Ag. Lands”
The Montana Winter Grazing Seminar is an annual program hosted by the Rangeland Resource Program through the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Each year, the program takes place in a different Montana city. To learn more about the Seminar, visit the Montana DNRC website.
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