We are learning how to increase the vigor and overall health of our landscape by following regenerative grazing and land management practices that support robust native grass species and minimize noxious weeds.
We have learned the importance of essential elements of living soil systems. We believe in order to have a healthy landscape, people, and wildlife, we must maintain and improve our living soils by managing our ranching practices for what we would like to see (diverse grass species and healthy, living soils) in a holistic and regenerative approach.
BIOLOGICAL & MANUAL CONTROL
While we understand the possible need to chemically control some types of noxious weed infestations, we've been experimenting for a number of years with non-chemical approaches.
Early journal entries from Explorers document many cases of wild herd animals from the past moving over the landscape in mass amounts- tens of thousands of grazing animals like elk and buffalo, moving naturally and fluidly. Behind them came browsing animals like deer and antelope. While the elk and buffalo ate the diverse and native grass species, the antelope would eat the brush and other woody plants and forbs. This is the natural system of balance, making way for generations of the same yet diverse species of plants to grow back without noxious weeds infesting over-grazed and unhealthy lands.
When goats graze today, they are mimicking the natural cycle. This natural cycle was disturbed when the cattle boom started. When many of the wild herd animals were killed and numbers substantially decreased in order for masses of cattle to graze the Great Plains and more. Grass was over-grazed, bare ground increased and (introduced) European noxious weeds flourished. Our hope is by mimicking the movement of both grazers and browsers together, the native species and overall plant health will be enhanced, benefiting the landscape and natural ecosystems.
**NOTE In 2017, a three-year experimental goat graze was completed in a variety of locations in Tom Miner Basin as an integrative approach to holistic range management. We will continue monitoring these locations in the coming seasons.
While there were a number of pros in this integrative approach to range management, one real challenge for the Tom Miner Basin area is the issue of grazing goats in areas where the density of large carnivores is higher than in other places. This approach could be highly successful in areas where large carnivores like grizzly bears and wolves aren’t as prevalent.
Rotational Grazing Techniques
Following the Bison
For centuries past, bison roamed much of North America and specifically used Tom Miner Basin as summer range. Bison work together as a herd, grazing one area, impacting the land through their hooves and fertilizing the land with their dung as they move. Our goal in Tom Miner is to have our cattle mimic bison as much as possible. The way in which bison utilized the range was beneficial to enhancing rangeland health and productivity. By grazing the grass once (taking one bite of each grass plant) and moving on and not returning to that area, bison evenly impacted the area and did not over-utilize the resource while knowing instinctively their return to the area would once again be lush with native grasses and healthy soil. Over grazing occurs when a single grass plant is grazed too low or too often in a grazing season thus weakening the root system. When grass is weakened the land compensates by covering the open or weak space with weeds or less desirable forage. In addition, hoof impact concentrated in a small area helps to break up the soil crusts and trample all old standing plant matter into contact with the earth. The more organic material in contact with the soil, the more easily decomposition happens and nutrients are added back into the earth. When land is under-grazed, old plant growth tends to suffocate new growth coming up from underneath. Bison trample the old growth down, thus making space for new, palatable plants to come in. Dung and urine act as fertilizer and are the key factor in motivating bison to move on to fresh ground and not continue to graze one area. This cannot be accomplished if bison functioned as a scattered herd of individuals.
Three of the five ranches in the Tom miner Basin have been experimenting with releasing biological agents onto noxious weed like knapweed. Weevils have been released constantly throughout the years with B Bar Ranch paving the way in this experimentation. We’ve seen successful treatment sights in multiple locations and hope to continue this in the coming years.