A Rangeland Stock Handling Concept: Inherding on the Hat Creek Grazing Allotment, Ellis Idaho

Project Overview

FW16-042
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $19,423.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
Glenn Elzinga
Alderspring Ranch

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage, animal protection and health, grazing - continuous, free-range, grazing - multispecies, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, e-commerce
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wetlands, wildlife
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Summary:

    The summer season of 2016 marked the second year of trialing “Inherding” as a viable way to meet the growing complexities of grazing cattle on public (and private) rangeland. In concept, “Inherding” is quite simple. Rather than managing cattle with a “keeping out” paradigm and working to exclude livestock from sensitive areas, cattle are herded intensely to keep them “in” areas that have lower environmental sensitivity. 2016 trials also focused on whether herders could successfully target areas to be grazed, and if so, evaluate the potential of inherding to use targeted grazing to meet ecological objectives such as brush cover reduction.

    Inherding trials were funded in 2016 by this SARE grant, a grant from the Central Idaho Rangelands Network, and matching funds from Alderspring Ranch.

    The location for the Inherding Project is a 48,000 acre public range allotment consisting of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management permits. Alderspring Ranch (Glenn Elzinga) is the sole permitee. The Allotment is remote, difficult to access, and difficult to manage due to steep topography and a number of conflicts that align with similar conflicts range managers are facing throughout the west: wolf reintroduction and pack increases causing increasing interactions with domestic livestock, fish listed under the Endangered Species Act, extensive riparian areas and many isolated riparian and spring “islands” essential for wildlife, potential big game wildlife conflicts, and recreation and hunting conflicts.

    The summer season of 2016 also marked the addition of enforced standards and guidelines for grazing on public rangelands with sage grouse habitat as part of permit compliance. Based on our experience in the past with this allotment and others, it will be very difficult for permittees to meet these standards using old management tools. (See uploaded Forest Service 2016 Operating Plan for the Hat Creek Allotment fseprd508995 ).

    The concept of “inherding” is an extension of the management intensive grazing paradigm that has been adopted by innovative stockman to increase forage production, vegetative health, and animal performance on pastures. In this management strategy, electric and permanent fencing is used to control animal movements, moving them as much as every day. This proposal extends this concept, but utilizes herders on horseback to control animal movement rather than fencing.

    Project objectives:

    Inherding is simple in concept: ecologically aware riders herd cattle 24/7 to completely avoid sensitive areas, and select areas that are suitable for cattle grazing, watering, and bedding at night. All domestic livestock on the allotment are maintained in a single herd that is moved as a cohesive group across the landscape. The whereabouts of every domestic animal is known and controlled at all times. This is different from moving cattle out of sensitive areas, or moving them to a new area, "settling" them, and then leaving them. And it is different than "day riding" where riders locate cattle in the morning and move them to a new area. We tried these methods for over a decade on the Hat Creek Allotment, and found them unsatisfactory for meeting ecological objectives and animal welfare and performance objectives.

    We coined the term “inherding” as a combination of “intensive herding” and as a change in paradigm from keeping cattle out of an area, as traditional range riders do, to the paradigm of keeping cattle in daily selected grazing paths and areas using stockmanship skills and herding.

    Initially we conceptualized inherding as a way to eliminate livestock losses to wolves. Both because of personal appreciation for large predators, and because of a customer base that is willing to purchase our beef in part because we do not kill large predators, we were seeking a way to coexist with wolves on our wild mountain rangeland. Knowing that wolves will generally avoid humans, we decided to essentially live with our cattle, corralling them at night near camping cowboys and cowgirls in a temporary bedding ground surrounded by electric fence.

    During the first summer we "inherded" (herded 24/7) in 2015, we found that wolf impacts were non-existent. But we found that we had something even more exciting. With herding, we learned that our control of animal location was complete. We could water them in very small, carefully selected watering sites where cattle would have minimal impact on streambanks. We could avoid springs altogether. These areas are typically magnets for cattle on the landscape, providing shade and water. Because these areas are so small and so attractive to livestock, they are nearly impossible to manage to avoid overgrazing. We could use bedding grounds to target areas where we wanted heavy disturbance or increased cattle manure. And we could limit utilization on upland key species to whatever we wished it to be. With herding, we used far more of the acreage of our allotment, bringing cattle to places they would never go on their own, but where there was great grazing. But with herding, we used all of our allotment much more lightly.

    And we learned a few other things that first summer. We learned that we could completely avoid any losses to poisonous plants. We learned that we could use our herders to find weed populations (and document them with a GPS, and destroy them if small). We learned that the work requires a particular kind of person. We learned that it didn’t matter if other uses left the gates open on our fences; the fences were meaningless because our herders were the fences.

    The 2016 project, in part funded by this SARE grant, built on what we learned about inherding during the 2015 grazing season. We needed more data.

    We developed the following objectives for the 2016 field season:

    • Train staff in ecological principles, stockmanship, horsemanship, monitoring, and horse packing.
    • Implement ecological monitoring on the allotment to access ecological success of inherding.
    • Implement herding and collect data on the level of control by herders.
    • Identify issues associated with inherding that would limit adoption by others, and potential solutions.
    • Track costs and benefits in order to economically assess inherding as a potential viable tool for range managers.
    • Coordinate with stakeholders and potential partners.
    • Disseminate information.

     

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.