In the Field

"You could see the cows following the barrels."

Water is the best way to spread cattle out across a pasture, Bob Lee believes.

So it was only logical that he would put in a system with four miles of gravity-fed pipeline and six water tanks to try to force cattle into every corner of a 1,200 acre pasture. Lee admits that the new pasture was little more than marginal ground, having been grazed hard before he purchased it in 1998.

Cows that can go over short grass, maintain their condition, raise a calf and breed back are the back-bone of the Lee Ranch’s Black Angus-Black Simmental herd. But even those cows struggled at the new place, even with the new watering system.

It didn’t take long for Bob to figure out the problem — the cows didn’t know where the water tanks were. His solution? Pick up a truckload of CRYSTALYX® BGF-30™ and string the barrels out between the water tanks. “You could see the cows following the barrels,” he said.

The difference is plain to see in his herd record book. The first 75 mature cows that calve on the home place have the privilege of going to the new pasture seven miles away. In 1998, those cows went on that grass the end of June and came off the end of August. In 1999, with the watering system in place and CRYSTALYX® barrels marking the trail, the cows stayed a couple of weeks longer.

“You can’t starve a profit out of a cow,” Lee says. “With CRYSTALYX® they maintained their condition for another two weeks.”

CRYSTALYX® isn’t the only component in the nutritional program at Lee Ranch, but it’s a product Bob had enough faith in to use in a situation like that. “CRYSTALYX® is a neat tool for ranches to remain productive and sustainable.”

Kathy, his wife, points out that they’d used CRYSTALYX® on the home place to disperse cattle and get better use of the uplands. After feeding the cattle up on a ridge to get them out of the riparian areas, the Lees have noticed more blue bunch wheatgrass in the pasture.

Bob classifies blue bunch as an “ice cream” plant -one that cows will eat first. Unfortunately, ice cream plants tend to be the plants that can’t take heavy grazing.

“The plant that survives in an overgrazed area is not the ice cream plant. It’s something like Kentucky bluegrass that says ‘If I can survive one day without getting bit, I can make it.’”

Wildlife numbers give the Lees quick feedback on how well they are managing their pasture resources. “Wildlife have the luxury of jumping the fence. They can see what’s going on. They follow good range management,” Bob explains.

That attention to detail has paid off for the Lees who were awarded the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Region 5 National Cattlemen’s Stewardship Award.

As low-cost producers, the Lee's look to forage to provide the nutrition their herd needs. He donated a 60-acre plot to the local FFA chapter to run a grass experiment looking at how different grass species and planting combinations will work in the Judith Gap area.

Instead of looking at inputs and asking, “What does it cost?” Bob turns the question. “What do you want it to do? Does the end justify the means or the end?”