Grazing Management

Getting a range cow to leave the comforts of a riparian area for the grassy mountainside has been a challenge for western cattle producers for decades.

Research continues to show the effectiveness of CRYSTALYX® as an easy-to-use, effective grazing management tool. Cattle like the taste and will move with the barrel placements — even traveling up high slopes to reach it.

How can CRYSTALYX® help forage utilization for your operation? Read the articles below for useful insight from industry publications and peer-reviewed journals.

FEEDSTUFFS

BEEF Magazine

Journal of Range Management

Rangelands Journal

Rangeland Ecology & Management

A Public Lands Grazing Solution

A Public Lands Grazing Solution
Getting a range cow to leave the comforts of a riparian area for the grassy mountainside has been a challenge for western cattle producers for decades. Steep terrain makes getting evenly distributed use throughout an area nearly impossible.

But the combination of increased public scrutiny and the effects of a lingering drought have made finding a tool to better manage the forage more important today than at nearly any other time.

Wayne Butts has the difficult task of balancing between recreational and livestock use in the Musselshell Ranger District in the Lewis & Clark National Forest in central Montana. A lot of the tension he sees exists because both livestock producers and recreationalists use the highly productive riparian areas heavily.

"Those bottom areas are used too hard," he says. "They're very productive. They're used by all the different forest users."

If cattle producers can find a way to lighten use in those heavily used areas, he believes recreationalists and environmentalists could co-exist more peaceably with livestock on the range.

In a recent series of trials conducted in central and western Montana, installation of CRYSTALYX® low-moisture block supplements attracted cattle to graze underutilized areas of public lands grazing allotments. The results exceed Agency expectations. Early indications are that CRYSTALYX® can be a very powerful tool to improve grazing management.

The following ten articles demonstrate how cattle producers, university researchers and U.S. Forest Service representatives cooperated together to better manage this valuable natural resource, and utilize it appropriately for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Ongoing research continues to show the effectiveness of CRYSTALYX® as a grazing management tool in a variety of forage situations.
 

Abstracts

Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative

How to Improve Grazing Distribution

How to Improve Grazing Distribution
Never forget, notes Cornell Professor of Forage Management Jerry Cherney, that the relationship between grazing cattle and their grass is one of predator and prey. Like any meat-eating predator, cattle hunt where the hunting's easiest. On hilly range, that usually means they linger within a mile of water, and as near as the food supply allows, to shade.

The spot-grazing that results creates several problems for producers. In fact, it is uneven grazing distribution rather than too many cattle that causes most overgrazing problems in western range-lands, according to Montana State Professor of Animal Science, Derek Bailey. Those problems include:

* Forage isn't used fully, uniformly and to highest profit. Cattle often congregate in lowlands along streams and overgraze that vegetation, even while abundant quality forage goes unused on uplands.
* The resulting high-traffic watering areas are subject both to pollution and erosion. Trampling by cattle and wildlife can reduce stream bank stability and increase erosion.
* Nutrients returned to the soil through manure are not spread to their best effect.

Spreading the utilization of range land forage across the landscape usually prevents the heavy use associated with concentrated grazing. When producers successfully even out distribution, the resulting light or moderate forage use allows plants to grow more vigorously, maintaining or even increasing cover.

Several tools have been identified over the years to improve distribution:

* Fencing and herding. Numerous studies show that when pastures are fenced into controlled paddocks, and cattle are herded at a relatively high stocking rate, they will reduce their time spent resting near water and shade where overgrazing occurs.
* Water placement. Spacing water supplies – if practical – can help even out grazing patterns.
* Fertilization and renovation. Improving range with selected species of native and tame grasses as well as strategic fertilization can help stretch the forage base located at natural grazing hotspots.
* Salting. Strategic placement of salt/mineral also draws cattle from water, evens out grazing pressure and widens the area of grazing. Judicious salting has been shown to increase carrying capacity as much as 19 percent.

Each of those solutions, however, creates its own set of problems. Riding cattle is labor-intensive. Fertilization is expensive and usually short term. Water developments and fencing are expensive and often impractical in range settings.

* Low-Moisture Block Supplements. New research reported inside this special 4-page report suggests a new tool may now be available to cost-effectively distribute grazing on open ranges.

How to Improve Grazing Distribution

Strategic placement of supplement has been suggested as one tool to improve grazing distribution. In fact, past research has shown grazing near riparian areas dropped dramatically when supplement was moved to areas that were previously underutilized. However, the difficulty in delivering supplement cost-effectively has often made its use as a grass-management tool impractical.

Today's new low-moisture molasses-based high-protein supplement blocks are highly palatable, easy to deliver by four-wheeler, trailer or pickup truck and can be placed and self-fed in rougher terrain than liquid or dry supplements. They offer managers the potential to lure cattle to more rugged topography than is practical with other types of supplement.

Montana State Animal Scientist Derek Bailey conducted a study during the fall and winter of 1997 to evaluate that potential. The study, based on two ranches near Havre and Cascade, Montana, measured forage use and grazing patterns in a 640-acre foothills pasture varying from 3,800 to 4,200 feet elevation, an 800-acre foothills pasture varying from 3,500 to 4,000 feet, and a 1,620-acre mountain pasture varying from 4,900 to 5,500 feet. After discarding both riparian areas and those with greater than 40 percent slope, Bailey's team divided the remaining ground into moderate and difficult terrain, platted into 67- to 135-acre sub-units, which were then randomly assigned to receive either supplement or no supplement.

Bailey carefully sub-divided the grazing test area so his team could compare the effect on grazing caused by supplementation under similar terrain, weather, cattle and management against non-supplemented control areas. "Being able to compare against a control is what gives us good real-life, solid data," Bailey noted. "We saw immediately the tight control aspect was what set this experiment apart from others in the past," said Mark Robbins, Research Coordinator for Ridley Block Operations, which helped support the study.

Every 7 to 10 days, low-moisture cooked molasses blocks were placed in the supplemented sub-units. Salt was also placed at half of the sites in both sub-units. The research team then measured differences in forage utilization by measuring stubble height as well as by clipping and weighing, counting the number of fecal pats both before and after supplement and salt placement and counting cattle visiting the sites. They found:

* More cattle were observed in areas with supplement (32 percent) than in control areas (3 percent).
* The increase in fecal pats was greater in areas with supplement (3.3 pats/100 square meters) than control areas (0.5) indicating greater use and more time spent there.
* Change in forage utilization was greater in areas with supplement (17 percent) than in control areas (-1 percent). For supplemented areas, the increase in forage utilization was greater in moderate terrain than in difficult terrain.
* Consumption of cooked molasses supplement was consistent across all terrains with the exception of steep terrain in one pasture (0.34 lb/hd/d). It ranged from 0.63 to 0.85 pound per-head, per-day in the other areas.
* Cattle consumed more salt near supplement than in control areas. But providing salt did not affect where cattle grazed in this study.

Bailey's work demonstrates placing cooked molasses supplement blocks in under-utilized range land can be an important tool for improving uniformity of grazing by beef cows in foothills range land during the fall and early winter.

"This study clearly demonstrates that producers now have a chance to open up more areas within these mountain pastures by using supplementation," Bailey notes.

CRYSTALYX®: The Ideal Tool for Improved Grazing

CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements are a low-moisture blend of molasses solids, proteins, hydrolyzed vegetable oil, vitamins and trace minerals. A carefully controlled, technically advanced cooking process is used to protect key nutrients. The result is a highly palatable, nutritionally-fortified supplement that dissolves slowly as cattle lick the surface. It's naturally self-limiting and cannot be bitten, chewed or over-consumed. CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements are weatherproof so there is no supplement wasted due to rain or wind. These supplements are virtually labor-free: simply place the returnable steel half-barrel near water and grazing areas and let cattle lick away. Cattle will visit the barrel numerous times throughout the day, consuming essential nutrients for optimum fiber digestion, growth and efficiency. That's why we call CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements the Continuous Nutrient Availability System.

Most big block supplements offer the "one-product-fits-all" approach to your feeding needs. Not so with CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements. No other manufacturer offers such a wide choice of product formulations designed for those special feeding situations.

Depending on the type of cattle, phase of production, season of the year and specific feeding conditions, there's a CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplement to fit your special needs.

CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements are NOT seasonal products. They should be fed throughout the year to provide nutrients as determined by seasons and pasture conditions.

Tracking Cow Movements Using GPS Technology

Tracking Cow Movements Using GPS Technology

High-tech equipment, along with old fashioned horse power, helped Montana researchers track when cows are at CRYSTALYX® barrels and what path they travel to reach the supplement.

Derek W. Bailey, a beef cattle researcher for the Montana State University Northern Agricultural Research Center at Havre, Mont., found that cows spent 40 percent of their time within 600 yards of the barrels.

“Our horseback observations showed that less than 20 percent of the cows were located within 200 yards of the primary water source,” Bailey says. Information gathered through the Global Positioning System (GPS) technology incorporated in the electronic monitoring collars showed cattle visited the supplement during all hours of the day.

Other than during bitter cold weather, cows visited the supplement up to two times per-day and spent 20 to 60 minutes per visit at the barrel.

Bailey also found cattle took a zig-zag approach to the barrels during the two hour period before they reached the supplement. Using GPS tracking, researchers found the cows began their trek to the supplement an average of 320 yards away from the barrels, but traveled about 600 yards before they arrived. Cattle traveled further in the late morning than during the night or early morning. Numbers were similar for cattle behavior within two hours after supplement consumption — traveling about 500 yards to get a total of 260 yards away from the supplement.

“These patterns suggest that cattle likely grazed en route to and from the supplement,’ Bailey says. “We also noticed that cattle remained closer to the barrels at night, so the barrels may have served as loafing areas between grazing periods.”

CRYSTALYX® Lures Cattle to Graze Pasture

Effectiveness of Strategic Low-Moisture Block and Salt Placement to Lure Cattle to Graze Under-utilized Rangeland

A recent study involving GPS tracking of cattle movement showed that CRYSTALYX® has two distinct advantages over salt, especially in areas that are drought-affected and have low-quality forage. The study evaluated the effect of strategic low-moisture block placement on the grazing patterns of individual cows and compared the effectiveness of strategic low-moisture block and salt placement to lure cattle to graze under-utilized rangeland.

CRYSTALYX® Moves Cows Away From Water to Grass.
Previous research has shown that cattle grazing distribution patterns can be modified by strategic placement of low-moisture block supplements. Strategic placement of CRYSTALYX® barrels helps lure and keep cattle in grazing areas. The study found that cows spent more time at higher elevations and farther from water when low-moisture blocks and salt were available than when only salt was available.

CRYSTALYX® Helps Cows Better Utilize Existing Forage.
Cows in this study spent more time within 600 yards of the supplement and were more active when CRYSTALYX® barrels were present. Differences occurred during both the night and day periods. Overall, cows were active (grazing) 66 minutes longer when low-moisture blocks were available than when only salt was available.

CRYSTALYX® Effects Fall and Winter Resting and Grazing Behavior.
In addition to verifying that CRYSTALYX® is effective in attracting cattle to graze high and rugged rangeland, there was also insight into how the supplement modified cow behavior in the fall and winter. The supplement sites served as a resting and loafing site location. Much of the consumption of low-moisture blocks occured at night when cows would otherwise be resting. Cows bedded and rested near the locations where the CRYSTALYX® was located.

University of Florida & Kansas State University

Enhanced Forage Utilization & Phosphorus Bioavailability Studies
In recent years, low-moisture block livestock supplements have steadily grown in popularity among cow-calf producers as an effective method of providing their cattle with supplemental protein, energy and other essential nutrients with minimum labor input. In support of producer testimonials, recent research studies have been completed which demonstrate important nutritional benefits provided by low-moisture blocks. These blocks are typically licked from a steel container.

One study was conducted at the University of Florida and two studies were conducted at Kansas State University.

These studies evaluated CRYSTALYX®. Overall, the studies provide data which indicate increased bioavailability of phosphorus, and proof that molasses blocks such as CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements enhance digestibility and intake of lower quality forages.

Mark Robbins, Research and Formulations Coordinator for Ridley Block Operations, was pleased with the results of the research work at Florida and Kansas State.

"The benefits shown by these studies – increased bioavailability of phosphorus and improved intake and digestibility of low quality forages are important for maintenance, growth and acceptable reproductive performance of beef cows," said Robbins. "Now we've been able to measure and quantify these benefits provided by low-moisture block supplements."

Bioavailability of phosphorus in low-moisture block supplements
Initial research done at the University of Florida showed an increase in phosphorus bioavailability with low-moisture block supplements. After receiving the results from this trial, researchers began to ask the same question cattle producers and nutritionists might ask. Was the response due to the molasses used in the low-moisture block, the cooking process or the added phosphorus in a cooked block?

Subsequent research by Dr. R. Scott Beyer of Kansas State University identified what factors were instrumental in achieving the increased phosphorus bioavailability. Using a standardized chick toe ash study, Dr. Beyer tested for effects due to the source of molasses in the block using concentrated separator by-product (CSB), cane molasses and beet molasses. In addition, the trial tested corn-soy diets containing supplemental phosphorus (dicalcium phosphate) from four different sources: 1) as is from the bag, 2) in the block, 3) as is with the block, and, 4) as is with the liquid form of molasses. The trial had 40 treatments; each treatment was replicated with eight pens. The experiment had two, 21-day periods of four replications each, requiring a total of 3,200 broiler chicks. Toe ash is a standard determinant used to measure phosphorus bioavailability.

According to Dr. Beyer's research, the increase in phosphorus bioavailability observed in the Florida trial was due to adding supplemental phosphorus to a cooked block. A cooked block without supplemental phosphorus and/or the liquid form of the molasses did not increase the bioavailability of supplemental phosphorus. Similar responses were observed in CSB, cane and beet molasses blocks. In other words, the unique cooking process used to produce low-moisture block supplements appears to increase supplemental phosphorus bioavailability, regardless of the molasses source.

Bioavailability: Toe ash results from Kansas State study
(Toe ash is a standard determinant used to measure phosphorus bioavailability)

ab Means with uncommon superscript differ (P<.001), (SEM=0.06).

The effects of supplement on intake and digestion of prairie hay by steers

Another research study involving low-moisture block supplements was recently conducted by Dr. Evan Titgemeyer at Kansas State University. The objective of this trial was to determine the effect of different supplementation strategies on intake and digestion of lower quality prairie hay (Crude Protein = 5.7%, Neutral Detergent Fiber = 72%) by steers. Because forage digestion and intake influence available energy for maintenance, growth and reproduction, producers often supplement lower quality forages with grains or protein concentrates.
 
To show which supplement option was most effective, Dr. Titgemeyer and his team of researchers conducted a digestion trial with 12 British and British-cross steers using an incomplete Latin square design in an open-front barn with free access to water and prairie hay. They compared free-choice intake and digestibility of a low quality prairie hay for steers given no supplement, 4 lb/day shelled corn or 1 lb/day of a low-moisture block, CRYSTALYX® BGF-30™.

Results of this trial indicate that the block treatment increased digestible dry matter intake 29% compared to the control, and 14% compared to the shelled corn treatment. Furthermore, the block treatment had the highest (P=.05) dry matter digestibility with the highest (P<.05) dry matter intake.
Dry Matter Intake (DMI)
--Treatment--
  Control Corn Block (SEM)*
Forage DMI, lb 14.8b 13.1a 16.5c .26
Supplement DMI, lb - 3.4 1.0 -
Total DMI, % 14.7a 16.5b 17.5c .27



Dry Matter Digestibility (DMI)
--Treatment--

  Control Corn Block (SEM)*
Digestible DMI, lb 6.9a 7.8b 8.9c .27
Dry Matter Digestibility, % 46.7e 47.1e 51.0f 1.27

a, b, c Means within a row with uncommon superscript differ (P<.05)
e, f Means within a row with uncommon superscript differ (P=.05)
*Standard Error of the Mean

Similar results were seen for fiber intake and digestion. The block treatment increased digestible NDF intake by 21% compared to the control. The corn treatment decreased digestible NDF intake by 19% compared to the control. Supplemental crude protein intake was similar for the corn and block treatments (0.30 and 0.31 pounds per-head, per-day respectively).

Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) Intake
--Treatment--

  Control Corn Block (SEM)*
Forage NDF Intake, lb
 
10.8b 9.6a 12.1c .19
Supplement NDF Intake, lb - .5 .1 -
Total NDF Intake, lb 10.8b 10.0a 12.2c .19


Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) Digestibility
--Treatment--

  Control Corn Block (SEM)*
Digestible NDF Intake, lb 5.3b 4.3a 6.4c .18
NDF Digestibility, % 49.2a 42.1b 52.9a 1.37
a, b, c Means within a row with uncommon superscript differ (P<.05)
*Standard Error of the Mean

According to Mark Robbins, the Titgemeyer trial displayed two key effects. Digestible fiber intake was lowest for the corn treatment and highest for the block treatment.

"This is a classic example of the negative associative effect of highly fermentable starch on fiber digestion," notes Robbins. "With a low-moisture block supplement, we can increase digestible fiber intake without the negative effects of the starch found in grain."

Bob Frost, General Manager of Ridley Block Operations is not surprised by the recent research findings from the University of Florida and Kansas State University.

"These trials really confirm what cattle producers have been experiencing in the field," says Frost." Low-moisture blocks provide important nutritional benefits over conventional supplements."


Depending on the product selected, low-moisture block supplements can be fed for approximately 10¢ to 25¢ per-head, per-day, according to Frost.

"When you consider the labor-saving convenience, along with the nutritional benefits, it's easy to see why a growing number of cattle producers are feeding low-moisture block supplements," he said.


Journal of Animal Science

CRYSTALYX® can help ranchers, forest service personnel and even elk and deer populations benefit from balanced utilization of public allotments.

Click the links below to learn more about this unique grazing management story.

A Public Lands Grazing Solution

Getting a range cow to leave the comforts of a riparian area for the grassy mountainside has been a challenge for western cattle producers for decades. Steep terrain makes getting evenly distributed use throughout an area nearly impossible.

But the combination of increased public scrutiny and the effects of a lingering drought have made finding a tool to better manage the forage more important today than at nearly any other time.

Wayne Butts has the difficult task of balancing between recreational and livestock use in the Musselshell Ranger District in the Lewis & Clark National Forest in central Montana. A lot of the tension he sees exists because both livestock producers and recreationalists use the highly productive riparian areas heavily.

"Those bottom areas are used too hard," he says. "They're very productive. They're used by all the different forest users."

If cattle producers can find a way to lighten use in those heavily used areas, he believes recreationalists and environmentalists could co-exist more peaceably with livestock on the range.

In a recent series of trials conducted in central and western Montana, installation of CRYSTALYX® low-moisture block supplements attracted cattle to graze underutilized areas of public lands grazing allotments. The results exceed Agency expectations. Early indications are that CRYSTALYX® can be a very powerful tool to improve grazing management.

The following ten articles demonstrate how cattle producers, university researchers and U.S. Forest Service representatives cooperated together to better manage this valuable natural resource, and utilize it appropriately for the benefit of all stakeholders.

The Combe Butte Example

Wayne Butts of the U.S. Forest Service was receptive when cattleman David Voldseth and other permittees on the Comb Butte allotment approached him about using CRYSTALYX® low-moisture blocks during the 2002 season. Voldseth had used CRYSTALYX® blocks on his own ranch during a drought to hold cattle to graze an underutilized area. Voldseth runs about 400 cow-calf pairs from his 1,500-head herd on the Comb Butte Allotment. He found the barrels worked as well on the Forest Service allotment.

The ranchers placed the barrels based on their experiences and in locations where they wanted to attract cattle. In some locations, single barrels wereplaced, in others multiple barrels were placed in a string. Voldseth spent a lot of time in and around the allotment and saw the positive results by the placement of multiple barrels in an underutilized area.

"It did what we wanted it to do in that it was able to keep cattle in areas that were previously mostly unused and keep them there long enough that a good share of the forage was utilized," he said.

Data Collection & Confirmation

Dennis Froeming, a range consultant, did an initial assessment of the allotment when cattle were turned out in early July. He followed that assessment with mid-season and postgrazing evaluations. At each location Froeming started walking in a direction, stopping at every step to identify the grass plant, record the height of the plant and whether it was grazed or not. He did four of the 15-plant transects at each location. Froeming also used the USFS standard of counting the number of grazed plants out of 50 and then converting that to a percentage of utilization to look at overall use.

He found that the permittees were able to stay in a pasture called Indian Creek for two weeks longer than the typical four weeks that they had in the past. “Much of the area was still fairly equally utilized with use levels at 25- to 30-percent,” Froeming said.

Using a combination of low-moisture blocks and herding worked well. At one location, the combination yielded a utilization rate of 25-percent around the site and 21-percent, one-third to one-half mile from the site.

In another area, the low-moisture blocks were put out after the cattle had been in the pasture for two weeks. Some barrels were placed on a ridge with a 35- to 40-percent slope. Froeming was amazed at how well the barrels drew cattle to the ridge. Utilization was between 40-and 45-percent on the lower slopes and 25- to 30-percent on the high knob.

Riders Key to Block Success

Trials on U.S. Forest Service allotments in Montana during 2002 show that using CRYSTALYX® low-moisture blocks in conjunction with a rider is extremely effective in keeping cattle out of riparian areas.

Jim Kusek was hired as a herder on the Moss Agate Allotment in central Montana. He used the low-moisture blocks to keep cattle out of an area that had been burned to improve wildlife habitat in September of 2000. In 2001, the ranchers put in water improvements to help keep the cattle out of the burned area, but Kusek said the barrels in 2002 were even more effective.

"This year we put the barrels out and then we pushed the cattle on them and they pretty much stayed there for a week or ten days" Kusek said, "and then we had to put them back. All I can say about it is that it doesn't replace a rider but it sure helped a lot."

That was also the observation of Dennis Froeming, a range consultant who collected utilization data on the Comb Butte allotment. "I don't think you can separate riding from the use of the product," he said.

An Effective Tool

Froeming was a conservationist with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service before he retired and became a range consultant. He's seen a lot of gimmicks in his career. He admits that at the beginning of the season he was skeptical about how well the low-moisture blocks would work.

"I've got to admit I was pleasantly surprised with the effectiveness of the product and how it worked," Froeming said. He cautions that riders are a key component to the success.

"It (CRYSTALYX®) gave an incentive to stay out and away from the key area, away from the water," he said,"and they would stay there for a day or two and then they would go back to water. And then the rider went in two or three days later and pushed them back out there and they would stay there."

Wayne Butts, with the USFS, also believes that CRYSTALYX® can be an effective tool for distributing cattle in an overall management plan. But, it's just a tool he says, not a silver bullet. "With the use of this supplement, the permittees bought themselves 10 to 20 days extra grazing on the permit by the use of the barrels, when used in conjuction with riding," Butts said.

Barrel Placement Is Key

David Maichel learned that the placement of the product is also critical. He and four other ranchers used CRYSTALYX® low-moisture blocks to distribute 650 cow-calf pairs on the approximately 100,000 acre Willow Creek allotment. The ranchers are being pressured to reduce cattle numbers by 28 percent or grazing days by the same amount.

"We've learned that if you take them late in the afternoon, towards early evening, they will stay and still be there the next morning," Maichel said. He's found that cattle can be trained to the barrel. "Once they see you put it out, they'll be interested in it and come up to it."

Marianne Klein, the U.S. Forest Service range conservationist for the allotment, said coordination is key if the person placing the barrels is not the same person herding the cattle.

"They have to be working with the folks that are putting the sites out," Klein said. "They need to be able to take the cows to those sites so that they are familiar with them and know where they are. Otherwise you are going to lose a lot of benefit."

She says using CRYSTALYX® isn't a replacement for good grazing management. "It's not a cure-all, but I can certainly see the potential."

MSU Study Looks at Strategic Supplementation

Montana State University is conducting a three-year study at Bair Ranch to evaluate the effectiveness of herding in combination with strategic supplementation to protect riparian areas.

The study is being done on a 4,000-acre pasture that is divided into three different paddocks with three different treatments:

  • Late-day herding alone
  • Strategic supplementation - supplement placements about a mile away from the stream. Then late-day herding the animals away from the stream to the supplement placement as a reward for the travel away from the stream.
  • Free range with no special management.

Although 2002 was the first year of a three year study, MSU professor Derek Bailey says the results are encouraging. The stubble height of the forage next to the stream and in the riparian areas of the pasture was generally two times higher in the two managed paddocks than the control group. Stubble heights in the control paddocks averaged 5-inches compared to 9-inches in the late-day herding-alone paddock and 12-inches in the late-day herding with supplementation paddock.

Changing Cattle Behavior

In several previous studies, Montana State University researcher Derek Bailey has found that cattle like the low-moisture block and will travel up high slopes to reach it. Once there, they stay and graze in the area around the block. With this study Bailey is testing the idea that once cattle are late-day herded to an area where there is something to hold them (the low moisture blocks), the cattle will stay there. That may reduce some of the problems and labor requirements associated with herding.

Bailey hopes the study will offer insights for ranchers looking for ways to change cattle behavior and grazing distribution patterns. He likens it to driving into town for dinner.

"You may not drive to a city from a ranch just to eat in town," Bailey said. "But once you are there, the restaurants look really good because you are there already. So that's the whole idea, to get them to the spot. Once they are there, the surrounding vegetation doesn't seem so bad. They have already put in the effort to travel there."

By the end of the three year study each paddock will have had one year's grazing under each of the three management strategies.

Bailey sees potential benefit for cattle producers who run cattle on private as well as public land. Distribution is a problem on any rangeland. Ranchers who use strategic supplementation are able to lure cattle to graze areas that they normally won't. Bailey believes that has two benefits.

One is that by getting cattle to graze more uniformly, a rancher improves the forage base and the ultimate sustainability of the resource. "You improve the vigor of the grass that is typically grazed heavily," he said.

Second, a rancher may be able to increase stocking rate or increase the length of the grazing period because with the low-moisture blocks, cattle now graze forage in underutilized areas that previously were mostly ungrazed.

Increased Forage Utilization and Improved Wildlife Habitat

The Voldseth family has been raising cattle in southwestern Montana for 125 years. Their largest neighbor — boundary wise — is the U.S. National Forest and the family runs about 400 of the 1,500 cow-calf herd on Comb Butte allotments each year.

David Voldseth has been using CRYSTALYX® as a fall and winter supplement for about 15 years. During a drought, he experimented with using CRYSTALYX® on his private land to hold cattle in an underutilized area that they normally graze lightly in the fall, but where the cattle didn’t want to stay because of the drought. He found putting the low moisture blocks out was enough to keep the cattle in that area.

That experiment prompted him to approach the USFS about using CRYSTALYX® on the public allotments in 2002. As drought in Montana entered its seventh year, Voldseth had been forced to reduce his herd to 1,200 pairs and the USFS planned to reduce his grazing season.

The allotment is fairly well watered, with water developments about every half mile. But in that half mile, there can be a lot of variation in how the forage is utilized.

Barrels were placed in an area distant from water where salt had historically been placed. Voldseth says both livestock and wildlife have underused the area. By placing low-moisture blocks in the area, and then hiring a rider to trail cattle to the barrel, the cattle stayed in the area and used more of the forage.

“And I think we’ll find in time that the elk in particular will use those areas more as well because a lot of that coarse rough fescue has been grazed down,” Voldseth says, “and what’s left will be considerably more palatable to the wildlife population.”

Forage isn’t something that can be stored, Voldseth points out. Elk and deer don’t winter in the high ground where the excess forage is left standing. “If your cattle don’t graze it, it gets snowed down. The elk don’t get it. The deer don’t get it. It just goes to waste.”

Voldseth also placed blocks at the head of Deer Creek, a particularly steep part of the allotment that has also been underutilized in the past. He placed two barrels on the west side and two on the east side. “I fully expected them to be full when I went back and they were all empty, which was really surprising to me,” he says.

While he feeds CRYSTALYX® for the additional protein and energy it provides during the winter, Voldseth sees increased forage utilization as the key benefit to putting the barrels out on the public lands allotment. He hopes the USFS will agree that the blocks help keep cattle out of the riparian areas and will allow him to run the number of cattle permitted for the entire grazing season.

He’s not sure what the bottom line cost of the experiment on public land will be, but from the standpoint of better forage utilization and improved wildlife habitat, the experiment was worthwhile.

“The object is to use grass that isn’t going to be used otherwise,” Voldseth says.

Successful Trial Program Convinces Montana Rancher

Using the CRYSTALYX® low-moisture block was nearly as effective for distributing cattle as installing another fence and pipeline.

John Sampsell has used CRYSTALYX® on his home ranch south of Stanford, MT, to supplement cows after calving in the spring and in the late fall and winter to utilize areas that haven’t been grazed. But 2002 was the first year he tried to use the low-moisture blocks on his public lands allotment to improve utilization. In his opinion, it worked just as well.

Blocks were placed in one pasture where one source of water is easy to get to and the other is hard. In the past, the cattle have congregated in a 50-acre meadow around the easy source of water. Riders would try to push the cattle out of the area, but the cattle always came back. “It was getting hit pretty hard,” he admits.

Putting CRYSTALYX® blocks out kept the cattle in the areas they’d never utilized before. Sampsell says they hardly touched the areas that are usually grazed hard. “It made the cows utilize the end of the pasture that we could never get utilized very well before,” he adds.

In fact, U.S. Forest Service personnel said utilization in the hard hit area was in line with what the allotment’s grazing plan calls for.

Sampsell has run cattle on the Burnt Ridge allotment with his cousins since 1977. He usually runs about 100 cow-calf pairs on the 9,400-acre allotment in central Montana. One pasture has plenty of water with meadows, willows and willow bottoms; the other pasture is steep with only two sources of water. The second pasture has an elevation of about 8,000 feet at the highest point.

Not only did the CRYSTALYX® improve utilization on the allotment, it made gathering cattle in the fall easier. Most years, it takes them two or three days to gather all the cattle out of the pasture, and in 2002 they gathered all but a half dozen pairs in the first pass through the pasture. And when they made the second pass, Sampsell said the cows and calves were right by the blocks. “They knew that’s where they had to go and that’s where we found them.” Given the success of the 2002 grazing season, Sampsell is more than willing to put CRYSTALYX® low-moisture blocks out again on his allotment but he’ll probably make some adjustments. He’d use more low-moisture blocks and late-day trail the cattle to the barrels so grazing pressure is focused away from the riparian areas, from day one in the new pasture.

John Sampsell
STANFORD, MT
BURNT RIDGE

CRYSTALYX® Helps Demonstrate Environmental Stewardship

David Maichel’s family has been ranching in Madison County, Montana, since 1898. As the public has discovered the beauty of the headwaters of the Missouri River, the pressure to change grazing management on the public lands has increased.

“I’m the fifth generation on my place. And it’s getting tougher and tougher to keep it going.” Maichel has about 500 cow-calf pairs on his ranch. He used CRYSTALYX® on his ranch during calving a year ago and was impressed with the low-moisture block’s performance. That led him to study how CRYSTALYX® had been used to draw and hold cattle in certain areas. This encouraged him to try an experiment on his allotment.

The idea, Maichel says, was to put the CRYSTALYX® “where we’ve got the feed but not necessarily the cows.”

About 35 years ago, the 100,000-acre allotment was fenced into four pastures for rest-rotation management. Three pastures are utilized each year while the fourth is rested. When the forage was about fifty percent utilized in the critical areas, the cattle are moved into the next pasture, typically onto more mature forage that was late growing-season rested the year before. “If we run out of pastured, the cattle come home from the permit early,” Maichel’s said.

The allotment is a prime example of the contentions that can arise from public land use. The U.S. Forest Service has told the permittees that they want cattle on the allotment for both fire and weed control, but the public has requested less use within the riparian areas. “If we overuse the resource, then we will be out of business.”

“We’re getting pressure right now from the Forest Service to either reduce our numbers by twenty-eight percent or our grazing days by that same number and that’s why we’re looking for answers to counteract that,” he says. He believes CRYSTALYX® offers a way to show the public that ranchers are making a whole-hearted effort to manage the resource correctly.

Ranchers with grazing allotments on steep terrain should give CRYSTALYX® a try. “You can always just try it around your own place to start with and in certain areas where you have trouble getting cows to,” Maichel says. “And you can train the cows to the product and once they see you put it out, they’ll be interested in it and come up to it.”

David Maichel
HARRISON, MT
WILLOW CREEK ALLOTMEN