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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine


  • 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

    Proposal summary:

    Ranchers using public lands range for grazing of livestock as permittees have experienced rapid changes in requirements and issues over the past 20 years. Concerns about riparian area habitat, water quality, endangered fish, endangered animals, reintroduction of wolves, and increased conflicts with recreational users have required operators to make substantial changes in grazing management and has even closed some areas for grazing. For many operators, these changes are expensive, and sometimes cannot be implemented in a manner that satisfies grazing standards and guidelines, such as stubble height of residual forage after grazing and bank trampling and alteration along streams. Owners of privately held rangelands have also experienced new challenges. Endangered species listings affect private landowners as well and increasing regulation of water quality and other environmental parameters have increased the cost of using private rangelands. In addition, public perception of these areas, although privately held, is increasingly viewing semi-wild areas as part of the public trust. In the early 20th century, fences were few and the range was “open.” Cattle were herded to good grass.  Since the inception of the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, cattle ranchers throughout the West have abandoned intensive herding in exchange for the “turning out” concept.  This practice involved simply opening the gate to the grazing allotment and letting the cows roam, unmanaged, for much, if not all, grazing season.  For many years it was the only method employed throughout the West.  More recently, livestock operators have moved to a “keeping out” management style, where more intensive effort is made to keep livestock out of sensitive habitats such as riparian areas primarily through constructing additional fencing, but also through occasional herding by ATVs or horses. The difference between current management and that of the early 20th century is that modern cowboys are employed to keep the cattle “out” of areas of concern.  In contrast early managers in a largely unfenced and wild range hired range riders to keep their cattle together or “in” a herd to protect them and target grazing activities that would maximize weight gains. As land management has become more complicated the current approach seems to be less and less successful, and more and more expensive.   This proposal is focused on reinventing the concept of the traditional range rider to better attain land health objectives as well as reduce livestock loss to predators, poisonous plants, theft, and poor feed. The Elzingas believe this shift in management may be cost-effective, but will require a demonstration to convince operators of its efficacy. The concept 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. They have coined the term “inherding” to differentiate what is proposed from current herding approaches. Alderspring Ranch is a certified organic grassfed beef operation that sells the full ranch production of 350-400 head direct to patrons both via the internet and through several natural food stores. The ranch is owned and managed by Glenn and Caryl Elzinga. The ranch operates on 650 acres of irrigated hay and pasture ground,  1,000 acres of private rangeland and 46,000 acres of public lands mountain rangeland. This is the Hat Creek Allotment, managed by both the BLM and the USFS. The entire allotment has been certified organic by the Elzingas in cooperation with the BLM and USFS, making the operation one of the largest certified organic ranches in the U.S. The Elzingas are the sole permittees on the allotment. The paradigm shift from “out” to “in” management is timely for Alderspring Ranch due to the convergence of multiple issues from both an ecological and cattle welfare standpoint.  Sage grouse, bull trout and sensitive plant species all have important habitat on Hat Creek.  Wolf predation is common.  Much of the upper allotment was once vegetated by aspen stands, but natural succession has resulted in conversion to Douglas fir, with implications for watershed dynamics as well as wildlife habitat. Large areas of forest landscape are in a late seral progression, with little hope for return to an aspen/conifer mosaic unless management strategies such as prescribed fire are implemented. In 2015, the Elzingas implemented a pilot project on the Hat Creek Allotment using intensive, 24 hour herding. Livestock were bedded at night using electric fencing with herders remaining camped nearby. During the day, cattle were herded in a single group to upland areas that have historically received very little grazing use. Sensitive habitats were completely avoided. The pilot was partially funded by the Central Idaho Rangelands Network (CIRN- see Roles and Partners below), of which the Elzingas are founding members. The pilot was deemed successful in meeting the objectives of minimizing cattle loss due to predation, poisonous plants, or illness (all 150 animals returned from the range) and avoiding sensitive habitat areas. Complete control of cattle movements and location of grazing was realized. The economics of the pilot project, while not conclusive, were suggestive that with economies of scale (larger herd) this approach could be cost effective. Educational outreach during 2015 included CIRN members, the sustainable agriculture community of Idaho, and agency personnel. Funding is being sought through this grant for the following: Expand the number of organizations and entities invested and interested in the project (see potential partners below). Fund a project technician to implement additional financial and ecological monitoring Support extensive educational efforts.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Successful implementation of this project requires coordination with a number of governmental, environmental, and agricultural entities. These entities may have direct interest, as in the BLM and USFS which are charged with implementing environmental standards for listed or sensitive species (sage grouse, bull trout, anadromous fish), or the Idaho Fish and Game (IDF&G) which must negotiate the conflict between ranchers and wolf predation. Other entities have indirect interest, such as environmental groups like Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) whose members have a concern for environmental quality and the impacts of livestock grazing in the west on public and private lands. These entities are primarily interested in the environmental results of “inherding.” Success for these groups is measureable in the short term by demonstrating that control of livestock movement and grazing is, indeed, complete. They would be interested in short term implementation monitoring using methods such as utilization mapping and photo documentation. They would also be interested in establishing baseline monitoring to evaluate longer-term vegetation response. In order for operators to wish to adopt this practice, it must be shown to be practicable and cost-effective. Therefore, successful implantation also requires the careful accounting of costs and the measurement of success on the ground through monitoring. The project must demonstrate that this approach is implementable both logistically and financially by livestock operators. While much was learned in 2015, lack of resources limited documentation and monitoring of the efficacy of this approach. Funding through this SARE grant would be applied to that need. The objectives and timeframes are as follows:

    • February – April, 2016. Coordinate with potential stakeholders/interested parties. Identify resource objectives and monitoring approach cooperatively with stakeholders. Obtain agreement from agencies that monitoring methods and personnel are acceptable.
    • Advertise summer positions.
    • April 2016. Select team members. Purchase and prep field gear. Set up monitoring protocols for ecological and financial data collection.
    • May 2016. Week long training for team members in stockmanship, horsemanship, and ecological objectives. Stockmanship sessions will be taught by Dave Ellis, a student of Bud Williams and a member of CIRN. Training will also include first aid and safety sessions.
    • May-September.
      1. Implement herding project on the ground using 3 teams of 2-3 members each.
      2. Host 2 field tours.
      3. Collect logistical and financial data.
      4. Collect ecological monitoring data.
      5. Implement educational and social media plan (see list under Educational Outreach)
    • September-December. Complete reports. Present to interested parties as well as those listed in the education plan below.
    • March 2017. Submit semi-technical papers (Rangelands, Extension, Agency publications).
    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.