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Lake County CD hosts tour of La Cense Ranch

Pivotal Pasturing Tour Notes

By: Heidi Fleury Lake County Conservation District and Ben Montgomery NRCS Ronan

On September 8th, 2016 approximately 90 people travelled from across Western Montana to La Cense Ranch in Dillon, Montana to take part in a ‘Pivotal Pasturing Tour’.  The tour, a cooperative effort between La Cense Ranch, the Lake County Conservation District and the NRCS offices in Ronan and Dillon was organized to showcase the simple, common sense grazing practices that La Cense Ranch has been implementing for over a decade. Race King, Ranch Manager at La Cense, provided his guidance and insight during the tour while head cattle hand, Miguel Navarrete, showed us the process of moving portable fence, posts and stock water tanks with a side-by-side.

For La Cense, the key to making their ranch profitable is flexibility. A number of years ago, after crunching the numbers, they determined that haying wasn’t making them money. So, they sold off their haying equipment and began to invest in more permanent cattle production infrastructure that now includes about 3500-acres of irrigated pasture. On an annual basis, La Cense Ranch grazes these pastures with up to 8,000 stocker cattle. Their grazing management plan utilizes numerous groups numbering from 500 to 800 individuals, depending on weight. Groups are then rotated under irrigation pivots using high stock density, short duration grazing practices.  The stockers are shipped in the fall and their mother cows are wintered on dormant grass without any supplemental hay feeding.  In addition to the changes in grazing management they’ve also moved their calving dates back to May to further accommodate ranch goals.

The management decisions that La Cense employs have paid off.  Zero herbicide applications are necessary on their pastures because weeds are not present.  Their grass production is high and their pasture quality is exceptional.  Race says the ranch can yield between 700 and 800 pounds of animal gain per acre, per year.  Doing the math at $1.5 per pound of gain equals $1,200 per acre from pasture production!  Try beating that with hay!

La Cense Ranch (link) prides itself on prudent business decisions that also employ the best management practices possible while producing healthy and nutritious beef. They have taken their grazing and pasture management to the next level by developing low-cost, simple infrastructure to facilitate grazing. For each pivot, two or three permanent, 12.5 gauge high tensile, single-wire circular electric fences are installed. A custom made portable 500-gallon stock water tank is filled from an above ground black, poly pipeline system that runs around the interior circular fence.  ‘Quick connect’ couplings are attached to the stock water line and the stock water tank clips into the coupler in seconds.  When the next livestock move is made, the coupling is quickly detached; the tank is dragged by ATV to the next location and reconnected in a matter of seconds.  The permanent Interior circular fences are further subdivided using polywire, temporary fencing. The polywire fencing is moved during each livestock rotation; a process that takes Miguel under 15 minutes.  During irrigations, the pivot travels over the polywire without interruption.

The easy movement of the portable stock water system and the pivot running over the flexible fences were just some of the many impressive things we viewed first hand on the tour. Most impressive was the rotating of several groups of livestock while the crowd watched.  After moving one group (setting and removing the temporary fence) Miguel returned to the crowd, the total time elapsed, six minutes. Six minutes to rotate 600 cattle! And he said he was taking his time so we could see what he was doing. Miguel rotates ten groups like that every morning and, from what we saw, you’ll never hear him say that it’s “too hard to move cows”.

Diagram of La Cense Ranch’s grazing strategy
Diagram of La Cense Ranch’s grazing strategy
Tour participants travelled in style (Photo Courtesy of Kori L. Anderson-Montana Stockgrowers Association)
Tour participants travelled in style (Photo Courtesy of Kori L. Anderson-Montana Stockgrowers Association)
Intently listening to Race King talk about keeping it simple (Photo Courtesy of Kori L. Anderson-Montana Stockgrowers Association)
Intently listening to Race King talk about keeping it simple (Photo Courtesy of Kori L. Anderson-Montana Stockgrowers Association)
500-gallon portable stock water tank
500-gallon portable stock water tank
Portable mineral bin and rubbing post (old street sweeper brush)
Portable mineral bin and rubbing post (old street sweeper brush)
Pivot wheel running over polywire fencing
Pivot wheel running over polywire fencing
Head La Cense Cattle Hand Miguel Navarette and his trusty steed
Head La Cense Cattle Hand Miguel Navarette and his trusty steed

Kate Arpin

Kate is the Communications and Technology Manager for Soil & Water Conservation Districts of Montana. She manages the website, puts out The Montana Conservationist every other week, and assists conservation districts with technology, websites, and communications.

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