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Managing for Biodiversity— The J Bar L Ranch by Ann Adams

W

hen Peggy Dulany, the owner of the J Barl L Ranch, first saw the deeded land stretched out before her in the Centennial Valley in southwestern Montana, she had a vision for the ranch. Over the years, Bryan Ulring, the manager of the J Bar L, and the skilled employees of J-L have helped shape and create that vision. With consulting help from HMI Certified Educator Roland Kroos, the J Bar L is now growing 4-5 times more grass in places on the ranch than they did before—which is good for the wildlife as well as the cattle. Their journey has been how to manage for ever increasing biodiversity to serve the multiple land owners for the grazing lands they use.

A Holistic Approach The J Bar L’s holistic approach is evident in their management and it is also reflected on their website where they state: “Our holistic approach to raising sustainably produced natural beef takes into account the importance of: • Sustaining ranching as an industry and way of life • Sustaining local communities • Land management and land quality • Preserving the environment and corridors of wildlife • Connecting with our consumers • Connecting with the land • Humane treatment of ALL animals, livestock and wildlife • Nourishing the body, mind and soul • Preserving the best of many old-fashioned techniques to produce top quality and safe food How this vision translates in terms of products and services includes: utilization of a variety of private and public lands with innovative grazing management, improved forage from that grazing, increased wildlife populations to keep the land owners happy, income generation from a spectacular viewscape, and from the opportunity for guests to experience a working ranch that is “newby” friendly (i.e. low-stress livestock handling), low-cost production of cattle due to grazing management, and innovative niche marketing strategies to tap into consumers who identify with their grazing management strategies.

Using strip grazing on both pasture and rangeland, the J Bar L is able to get 100,000 lbs/acre stock density, leading to improved animal impact and incorporating organic matter. 14

Land & Livestock



July / August 2011

The J Bar L includes the 10,000-acre deeded land in the Centennial Valley and 10,000 – 15,000 acres of leased land including Bureau of Land Management (BLM), The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) and Red Rocks Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Bryan Ulring began working for the ranch in 2007 and has helped, with the rest of the J Bar L team, to move the health and function of the land forward so that the cattle operation provides a strong source of income for the ranch as well as the guest program. As a working ranch they take guests for 8 weeks of the spring and summer to provide guests with the experience of what it’s like to work on an authentic cattle ranch. Bryan grew up in South Dakota and got his business management degree from Montana State University. Keeping an open mind, he uses his background in business to develop successful ranching enterprises. HMI Certified Educator Roland Kroos has been a lot of help to the J-L team in teaching the the principles of Holistic Management and monitoring the results of grazing management..

Handling Complexity Because the J Bar L grazes different land areas with different owners and different rules, as well as dealing with a wide range in elevation, grazing planning is critical. For example, when they are grazing wildlife refuge areas they may only come in every 2-4 years, while on their deeded ground they come back every year. Having the grazing plan and clear grazing policies and practices, helps facilitate the conversation. Sharing that information and the monitoring data also helps, notes Bryan. “We have fantastic relationships with all the land managers we work with. They are very open-minded and want to help. We’ve had some range tours and invited folks from the BLM, Montana State, NRCS, DNRC, Montana Audubon, MT FWP, University of Montana, TNC, and local ranches. With Roland and the TNC doing monitoring for us and showing the results, it’s really opened up the gates for us. Of course, there are still some neighbors that think what we are doing is crazy.” While the J Bar L is always experimenting on how to improve their grazing management, it has been journey according to Bryan: “We started with set stocking and have moved to 5-7 day graze periods. We now have a stock density of 100,000 #/acre on our irrigated pastures at Twin Bridges, but we are always balancing our animal performance to determine size of area and length of stay as we try for 2-2.5 lbs of gain/day. Even in our rangeland areas in Centennial, we are experimenting with 100,000 lbs/day stock density. We have to move them every day as there isn’t as much forage, but we’re seeing some good regrowth with bunch grasses like Idaho fescue. “But, we have to accommodate a lot of different interests because all the land owners have different directions and goals. We are trying to get everyone aligned and understanding what we are doing. The BLM, TNC and the Wildlife Refuge are focused on sage grouse habitat and are looking at curlew and sandhill cranes as indicator species. That’s important, but we have to put it in the overall land health context.” The ranch staff at the J Bar L knows they need to manage not only for those birds but also wolves and trumpeter swans. While they have had dozens of wolves around the cattle, by keeping the herd tightly bunched and focusing on good mothering, they haven’t had much trouble. The only confirmed wolf/calve interaction is when the calf was already dead. The cattle operation includes 800 pairs, 300 yearlings and they carry over 200-300 finished animals for the grassfed beef enterprise. In addition they

#138, In Practice, Jul/Aug 2011  

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