Little Land and Cattle—
Stewards of the Land by HEATHER SMITH THOMAS
he Little family has been working with land and livestock for several generations, finding a balance that is productive for grass, grazers and the humans who manage them. It all began when Andy Little came to Idaho from Scotland in 1894 and arrived in Caldwell with just a suitcase and 2 border collies. He traveled on foot to a ranch near Emmett, Idaho to start working as a herder for another Scotsman. Eventually he bought land of his own in that area, and with his son David their operation became one of the largest sheep producers in the world.
The Journey to Planned Grazing Brad Little (3rd generation) says the family branched out into cattle, and then his father (David) sold the last of the sheep in 1962. “I bought another sheep operation about 30 years ago and sold it about 15 years ago, but we continued to have cattle all along,” he says. The operation now has about 20,000 acres of private land and has also depended on grazing on BLM allotments, but has given up their Forest Service allotments. “From a grazing standpoint we are probably very traditional in our grazing practices, but we’ve always tried to improve the land as well as the livestock. My dad had a big battle with the Forest Service over an anadromous (migrating) fish stream on the edge of a wilderness area. He spent a lot of money in that battle, ended up winning, but decided there had to be a better way,” says Brad. “At that time my dad became acquainted with Gus Hormay (a silviculturalist who became the father of “rest rotation” grazing management systems (that were adopted by the land management agencies in the 1960’s). My dad went to one of Dr. Hormay’s schools. At that time, Dr. Hormay was under contract with the Forest Service.” “My grass monitoring photos of our grazing areas go back to some that Gus Hormay took during the mid-1960s when we’d go out and look at the range. Dad was pretty rigorous about implementing full-blown rest rotation,” recalls Brad. A few other ranchers also started rest rotation programs about that time, but it didn’t catch on overnight. “Like Allan Savory once said, some of these ideas are picked up by a ranch in the next county or two counties away because many ranchers are reluctant to adapt to what their close neighbors are doing. But there are some ranchers here in Idaho who are firm disciples of rest rotation, and this is also still a part of our management system,” says Brad. “One of the biggest challenges in implementing any kind of planned grazing is the time it takes, and the need for more training in these principles. But over time we have tried to use holistic planned grazing in conjunction with traditional rest rotation,” he says. “We seem to have big fires about every 20 years. We had Gus come here in 1986 after the big fire that year and we consulted with him, and he basically just told us to keep doing what we were doing.”
Beyond Rest & Rotation The Littles became more involved in Holistic Management, and feel that it has given them a much wider view of options in resource management. “Back then, holistic planned grazing meant putting in lots of fences. I went through this, and when I first went to one of those schools Allan Savory did a really good job of ticking me off, telling me that 10
Land & Livestock
November / December 2012
From Left to Right: Judy Little Hinman, David Little, Gus Hormay, Jim Little, Brad Little everything I did was wrong, and that the universities and range scientists were stupid. It’s a good thing I’d paid a non-refundable fee or I might not have made it through that school! But I stuck it out,” he says. The school was in Albuquerque and the demonstrations were on some land that was pretty tough. “I realized there was quite a bit of logic to Savory’s ideas. Then I went to a couple more of his schools after that. The man who runs the ranch for me (for 25 years now) also went to one of the HRM (Holistic Resource Management) schools.” Every ranch is different and you have to adapt these ideas to fit your own land and situation. It’s hard to quantify the results that the Littles have achieved through their greater use of planned grazing. When asked if their move toward Holistic Management has increased production (grass, animals, financially), Brad says that it’s hard to say, because all of their grazing applications have been combined with their traditional types of planned grazing. “It’s an on-going learning process, but our efforts have given us a deeper appreciation of biological diversity. Grazing systems are very dynamic and require constant monitoring,” Brad explains. “Our operation has changed a lot over the past several decades. We’ve given up all our Forest Service ground,” he says. “There was too much bureaucracy and too many hoops to jump through.” “They’d tell us that if we’d spend another $20,000 building fence they’d allow us to continue using a certain area—and then something else would come along to make it difficult or impossible. I had an allotment that didn’t have salmon in it, and then they planted salmon in the stream. After that they basically put me out of business because of all the complications to take care of the fish. We had to deal with the Department of Commerce and all the fisheries, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, etc—about 4 different agencies. It became so cumbersome we had to give up on it,” he explains.
Growing More Grass The Littles purchased additional ground, moving toward more private base for the operation. “We leased some industrial timber ground that