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Managing pasture and rangeland productivity: How low-moisture blocks can help

How does feeding low-moisture blocks fit into the topic of pasture and rangeland management? I recently wrote an article published in Progressive Cattle Magazine that discussed rangeland quality and productivity, and in this, my latest blog, I’ll discuss how CRYSTALYX®, specifically, fits into and complements grazing. This is a broad subject matter that includes soil health, ecology, wildlife management, forage production, supplementation strategies and livestock production. Feeding CRYSTALYX in any grazing system can have a positive impact on all the above. 

Supplementation can be a key part of pasture and range management

Forage alone is not always enough. If we could only graze pastures during a time when the available forage met all the requirements of cattle, we’d be grazing very few days. As plants grow and mature, their crude protein levels decrease and their fiber and lignin levels increase. The vitamin and mineral content follow the same pattern: digestibility decreases, as do the available nutrients. This is where supplementing CRYSTALYX can help maintain the performance of those grazing animals.

RELATED ARTICLE: Making smart decisions in dry conditions

The supplement application and strategy are where much of the focus is centered when feeding CRYSTALYX, but there are many other benefits as well. One research-proven benefit that CRYSTALYX can offer is improved grazing distribution. Improved grazing distribution should be a goal in any grazing plan, as it benefits the optimal use of pastures while preventing overgrazing. In many situations, pastures may be overgrazed in one area and underutilized in another. This can be the result of the topography, water location, forage quality and even animal behavior. Water development, fencing and herding are long-time practices that help distribute livestock grazing, but they only go so far. Research studying CRYSTALYX in the late 1990s and early 2000s demonstrated that strategic barrel placement attracted cattle to areas where more grazing is desired in underutilized areas. These areas may be far from water or in rough terrain. Attracting animals to these areas results in more forage being available to the animal or more grazing days through improved distribution. This helps optimize the available resources while also relieving pressure on areas that may tend to be overgrazed, such as riparian zones or areas near watering structures.

This is nice, but does it pay? Absolutely!

The economic benefits of improved grazing distribution are many, but they are perhaps most evident in drought years, when cattle would need to be moved off pastures earlier than normal. Imagine having two more weeks of forage to graze without damaging the pasture or having to feed hay. Research from Montana State University demonstrated a 15%-plus improvement in forage utilization in areas within a 600-yard radius (233 acres) of where CRYSTALYX barrels were placed.

Another way to interpret these results is that a 15% improvement over 3 months of grazing translates to two more weeks of grazing. Two weeks of grazing for 200 cows is equivalent to 40 tons or more of hay. I use 200 head in the example above because that’s about how many cows it takes to consume a ton of CRYSTALYX in two weeks. What’s more costly to purchase: 40 tons of hay, two weeks of additional pasture rent or a ton of CRYSTALYX? Illustrated in the table below are some typical cost-comparative assumptions. These can vary greatly, but in most situations, better forage utilization and grazing distribution with CRYSTALYX result in money saved.

With CRYSTALYX, you get more days to graze, save money on purchased forage or pasture rent and improve the management of your pastures. It wins every time.

Other self-fed supplement forms have been used for this practice, including salt, but the best results have been shown with low-moisture molasses blocks like CRYSTALYX, which is very palatable and is preferred by cattle.

Better stewardship of the land: Tell the story

Livestock grazing has been unfairly and/or widely blamed for climate change, endangered species, poor water quality and more issues. But the reality is that the industry has done a great job of promoting rangeland health and quality through good management. I believe that, in general, our pastures and rangelands are managed much better today than, say, 50 years ago and are undeniably better than a century ago. Rangeland management is about continuous improvement, stewardship and sustained productivity. This story is not told often enough.

The benefits that CRYSTALYX can provide in relation to improved grazing distribution can result in an improvement in the overall health of pastures and rangeland. These benefits extend to wildlife, soil health and overall rangeland ecology. Not only does this make sense for sustainable livestock production, but it’s another example of agriculture being a solution for better environmental practices instead of a problem. 

Land is a finite resource, and we are demanding more food production from a shrinking amount of land available for agriculture. There’s competition for this land — be it for grazing, recreation or urban sprawl. Limited available pastureland and the cost of what is available for lease or purchase can be deterrents to the expansion of the number of grazing animals in many communities. So, for grazing operations to be profitable, good management is key. Our industry should also be a strong advocate for responsible stewardship and sharing those benefits with the agricultural community and the public at large.

CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements are fed in varying geographies, topographies and climates and in numerous beef cattle management scenarios. CRYSTALYX is a versatile supplement and can be used beyond its nutritional value as an important management tool. Those who only value CRYSTALYX for its protein percentage or the cost per unit of any other nutrient don’t understand the value of a supplement “beyond the tag.” Some may think that the topic of rangeland and pasture management refers only to cattle grazing vast western rangeland and public lands, but rangeland and pasture management principles apply to pastures as small as just a few acres to those as large as a few thousand. CRYSTALYX works not just for your cattle; it also works for you and your pastures.