Of swans, wolves and bears
The challenge of sustainable ranching
The owner and staff of the J Bar L in Montana had been pursuing some recent dramatic changes in their management, which they wanted to share with others.They wanted to discuss the results they were seeing on the land and what they meant. It did not take an expert to know that some of their biggest changes were beneficial to both the environment and human health.
First, they are now producing 100 percent grass-fed cows (read: no corn, unnecessary drugs, or hormones). With an abundance of grass available in winter on a lower elevation ranch near Twin Bridges, they have been able to eliminate their previous reliance on hay, which greatly reduces their energy consumption and carbon footprint. They are also not selling their cows to feedlots, many of which are horrible from the standpoint of chemical and hormone inputs to the cows, which in turn are not healthy for the people who consume them. Feedlots are also notorious causes of air and water pollution, as well as inhumane for the cows.
J Bar L’s program of frequently moving cows around the landscape means that there is a lot of grass, sagebrush, and other plant cover and forage left over for birds, foxes, coyotes, bobcats and other wildlife that use the area. In my brief time there, I saw coyotes, fox, three black bears, numerous moose, pronghorn, elk and an abundance of birds, including bald eagle, harrier, sandhill cranes, great blue heron, lesser scaup, coots, bluebirds and meadowlark. And I heard of a grizzly bear that they saw occasionally on a nearby mountain.
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