At Howard ranch we are a fourth generation ranch family from Idaho. Our particular ranch family at the moment includes Bob and Pam Howard, Spencer and Jessica Oldham and children Graden, Brinley and Spade, with partner employees Michael Mitchell and daughter Koda, . These are all intricate pieces in the puzzle in the operating of Howard Ranch. Bob and Pam also have three grown sons who have families and jobs of their own; Nathan, Heather and children (Heather is Desert Mountain bookkeeper), Will, Traci and children (Traci, Desert Mountain office manager) and son Seth, Carin and children (Carin, Desert Mountain on call physician assistant.)
We winter in the small town of Hammett Idaho and summer in the mountains of Southwest Idaho from Midvale, Cambridge, Lakefork to Cascade. The reason for all of the locations is about climate and what’s best for the cattle, people and to use our environment to the best our ability. Cattle prosper in climates from 40 to 80 degrees so one of our goals is keep as many cattle as we can in this range. We have cows and bulls to raise our end product from. The Cows are bred from May10th to July and start calving on or about Feb 20th to fit our particular environments. The summer grazing ground is coming into its strongest time in May for cows to cycle, and our wintering ground is becoming spring in late February. We process the calves at 2 months to inoculate them with preventative vaccines and neuter the males; if an antibiotic is given the calf is identified and taken out of our program. They are never given any hormones. The cows then rear the calves with them thru the summer and into fall, feeding them milk as the calf is developing it‘s stomach to be able to digest forbs and grasses which starts to take place at about 3.5 months of age. We separate the calves from the cows from 7 to 10 months. The calves will weigh around 500lbs at this time off of our environment. We will then place the calves on various pastures for the winter from King Hill Idaho to Murphy with different farmers on pasture. If the weather gets rough we will feed them hay but most of time they will graze. The cattle will really start to gain weight from March on until harvest.
The finish cattle are on the very best grasses and forbs from March until Dec. at which time we feed them in open pastures utilizing bunks/feeders on grass/alfalfa hay, Sudan grass silage, to keep them on a finishing plan. We stage cattle to be ready all year as we are a fresh product. We do not place any more cattle in this situation than is necessary to have a winter product, as we believe that cattle grazing grass and legumes naturally is the most sustainable.
About the cattle; we live in a dry part of the world and believe that producing beef in a sustainable way is what God intended us to do. We learned the hard way that our base cow herd has to fit our environment so we developed a line bred herd of Angus cows with the help of Larry Leonhardt from Shoshone Angus. It has taken 20 years to remove the crossbreeding mess that we started from. But today we have a set of cows that can renew themselves in this environment.
This set of maternal cows allows us to make true crosses for an end product, while breeding a percentage back to their line to maintain the original bloodline. With some research we found that we can use a breed named Akaushi on these cows and offspring to have a healthy wonderful tasting product that can be raised sustainably.
With all of that said our greatest concern is generational sustainability and how we can help the population move forward in a positive manner.
About what we have learned in our Dry non irrigated native landscape; the beginning of grazing the state of Idaho with domestic live stock began when the Native people obtained horses. The people were nomadic and moved with the seasons to graze and follow the Deer, Elk etc. Next was the trapper who trapped beavers from the streams thus having a huge effect on the riparian zones. Then the miners came with large numbers of horses and mules that needed fed every day, grazing whatever was available 365 days a year. There were no cars or trucks to move any materials and the most a single horse would pack was 200 lbs. A team of horses could move about 2000lbs in a wagon and every one needed supplies. So this was the beginning of stationary grazing until out of feed. The farmers followed the miners as they needed to eat. The cattle followed the farmers coming from high rainfall areas thinking that all climates were the same and you could graze the perennial grasses when ever desired. At some point the sheep also came. The landscape is getting crowded with ungulates now and they still grazed all during the growing season. Which come to find out much later was the only thing that perennial plants cannot survive. We were able to realize this thru the studies of Alan Savory in Africa about great herds of ungulates that take one bite of a plant and move on. They call it the great migration and when you imitate this on the dry Idaho Desert it starts to heal and become a perennial landscape again. There is one more thing that I would like to talk about and that is invasive annuals i.e. Cheat grass. This plant came from Asia with the Chinese minors as packing for their opium bottles. Any areas where humans lived were perfect seed beds for this plant to get started, as the perennial plants were non-existent because of season long grazing. Another interesting thing is in Hammett the hot growing degree days do not limit the growing season as the farmers who irrigate can attest, but it is the moisture on our native ranges.
That is a long introduction for how we graze our cattle in this brittle environment.
We will start in November as that is when the cows have had their calves weaned and are in the 2nd trimester of pregnancy. The desert needs to have the litter removed from it as the snow never gets deep enough to incorporate it into the soils to store the previous year’s accumulation of carbon and other minerals, Cattle do this very well. You need to leave about 5 to 7 hundred pounds of litter on the ground to protect it. This does not mean standing but some of it will still be. So our goal from November to March the beginning of the growing season, is to accomplish this carbon sequestration. One more benefit is to place the perennial seeds into the earth so that they can sprout and renew. On March 1st in our environment it becomes necessary to start the migration effect as the growing has begun. The timing also combines with when the water molecules begin to warm and move. We will move these cattle every 18 days or sooner to take one bite of the grass, at which time it will stimulate root growth in the perennial plants and help to slow down or eliminate the growth of annuals. To in addition allow the seeds from the perennial plants which you put in the soil that winter to grow. Most of our annuals are winter annuals, which mean that they must start in the winter. This sounds difficult but is not because the small amount of moisture we will receive on a normal year is less than 10 inches.