Our ranch couldn’t operate without running on public lands. We would love to run our cows totally on private land but that just isn’t doable right now. Don’t get me wrong, the range land that we graze on is really, REALLY great. Our cows come home fat and healthy. But it would be nice to not have someone to dictate where and when we can run our cows.
Remember the days when we didn’t have to answer to anybody about our cows out on the range? Ya me neither… Mostly because I haven’t been around this operation very long. But also because even if I had been around here my whole life, the range has been regulated for longer than I was alive.
When the first cows were grazing out on this range, nobody owned it. It was just leftover land from when the railroad had been built. Cattlemen would take their cows to Curlew Valley to graze through the summer months and then head south to Locomotive springs to winter. It ended up being a conglomeration of all sorts of cattle and brands, which may seem crazy but it worked out well. Between all of the cowboys there was always enough help to get all of the work done- water kept up, the cattle checked, and all the ground covered. In the spring they would help brand each other’s cattle and in the fall they would all gather in and wean the calves.
Over time and from experience, they established good patterns of grazing, making sure that they wouldn’t over graze the land and have something available when it was time to come back. They let the seasons and weather dictate how and where the cattle would be, flowing with range and its needs.
These days we still run our cattle the same, just with a LOT more direction from the higher ups. We still run in an association, with most of the original brands that we began with so many years ago. We still help move cattle, brand, wean, and check water just like they did in the past. But now we are on somebody else’s schedule. They tell when to turn out, how long we can stay, and where we go next. The dates are rigid and there is no flexibility to work with what the range is giving.
I really have mixed feelings about this. I think it is smart to have organization to it. We want to ensure that the range is healthy for our cattle to feed on so it is important to make sure that we don’t have too many cattle or spend too much time in one area. But at the same time, having someone from behind a desk telling us what we can and can’t do, especially when they don’t understand cattle or the work it takes to run them, is frustrating.
The job gets even harder when there are special interest group trying to keep you from your range land. There are all sorts of reasons that they don’t want us on the public lands. They think that we are harming the land. They figure it needs to be left for the public to use for recreation. They want it preserved for wild life. Or some just don’t want it used at all for any purposes.
Right now, we aren’t in a position where we are being troubled by anyone directly, but we aren’t excused from the fight to get cattle off of public lands either.
I’m the kind of girl that is all about being efficient with what we have. I’m pretty sure that it’s in my genes. I hate to see things go to waste when there is so much value to be had. But I also don’t want to use it all up at once. That’s being wasteful too. There’s that sweet middle ground that should keep from wasting by keeping things from totally unused but also keeping it from being over used and ruined.
But how can we apply that to the range?
It’s all a balancing act, friends. Its working to keep too many cattle off too little ground with too little feed for too long. But it is also having cattle out there to disturb the ground to help new seeds to grow, to cultivate the ground, to carry seeds in their poop and fertilize them to grow. Its having cows out there to eat the grasses and keep the fuels down so fires don’t devastate the range. Using it for cows keeps it as usable, profitable range land and not the next development area for a new subdivision.
Balance. That’s how we do it.
A few years ago, I saw a book that was talking about public lands and it was obviously against ranchers using it for their cattle. In fact, there was a caption in big bold letters that said something to the point of “keep ranchers from turning your land into a feed lot!” And right next to it was a picture of an area that had been overgrazed (most likely it was right next to the water trough, right?!).
It was a little like a punch to the gut.
Is this what people really think ranchers do? Do they assume that we use public range land to feed our cattle so that we can make some money by fattening our cattle while we ruin someone else’s land? I just wanted to shake someone, anyone, EVERYONE and say, “WE DO THIS FOR YOU!”
We run and raise cattle for people to eat. It’s plain and simple. Yes it is our jobs and we are trying to make money doing it (enough to survive at least… ha… ha…). But at the heart of it all, we care about making a good, affordable product for families to put on the table using the resources available.
For years and years, nothing has changed how ranchers use the range. But what has changed, is the public’s perception of how and why use the land. Their land. The bigger picture is that we use their land to raise cattle to feed their families. And we have before it was really anyone’s land. The cattle were there long before any interest groups even existed, let alone had an agenda.
We are going to keep running cattle out on the rangeland for as long as we are able. We are going to keep using that land to keep our cows healthy and we are going to keep using our cows to keep the land healthy. And in the end, you, that eat our beef, will stay healthy too.