In the Field

"The cattle stay up there longer with the CRYSTALYX barrels than with anything else."

When David Cameron looks at the cows grazing on the Dana Ranch, he doesn't see mere ruminant animals - he sees "grass harvesters." And as such, those cows have an important role to play.

"The only way to make money with cows in Montana is when they are out on grass," Cameron contends.

Management of the entire 54,000-acre Dana Ranch is guided by the principle that cows, not equipment, harvest most of the forage. But getting the cattle to do their job in a minimum stored forage system is not always easy, especially in the mountains west of Great Falls.

Much of the terrain on the Dana Ranch is steep and rocky. Elevation climbs from 3,600 feet above sea level at Cascade (the nearest town) to 4,300 feet at the ranch headquarters and to 5,600 feet at the top of the winter range.

To get the standing forage he needs before breaking into the haystacks (14 acres per animal per unit month for 10 months), Cameron has tried nearly everything to keep the cows up where the forage is standing.

Over the years they've tried a lot of "cowboying" - riding a pasture once a week to push cows and yearlings back up to areas that have been historically underutilized. If the ranch was lucky and no storms came through, the cattle might stay there for a few days. Cameron's even tried a two-wire electric fence strung in a 3.5-mile loop, but the results were disappointing.

That's why he was interested in seeing if CRYSTALYX® barrels could be used to lure cattle up to underutilized areas and then keep the cattle there. Cameron had begun feeding CRYSTALYX® several years ago when he was looking for a mineral block that didn't use salt to limit consumption.

Derek W. Bailey, a beef cattle researcher for the Montana State University Northern Agricultural Research Center at Havre, Mont., set up a trial at the Dana Ranch to see how effective low-moisture molasses-based supplemental blocks are in distributing cattle in a pasture.

Supplemental sites were established within the pastures. Blocks from the previous two weeks were removed and fresh barrels were used to establish new supplement sites at least 250 yards from the previous site.

During the CRYSTALYX® trials, pastures flat enough to be called "easy" were eliminated as well as those considered to be inaccessible. The remaining pastures were divided into moderate (20 to 30 percent slope) and difficult (30 to 40 percent slope).

Both forage utilization and cattle distribution were more even than researchers had anticipated. Results showed that supplement generated 23 percent better use of moderate terrain pasture and 11 percent better use of difficult terrain.

Cameron also thinks the trials were successful. "The cattle stay up there longer with the barrels than with anything else," he explains. He never worried about sending a ranch hand up with new barrels two weeks later and finding the first barrels full.

Cameron looks at the bottom line when making every management decision. CRYSTALYX® meets his exacting criteria. He divides the cost of a barrel of CRYSTALYX® into three categories: the price of protein itself, the price of convenience and the price of distributing the cattle in a pasture. Any two of those three benefits will pay for a CRYSTALYX® barrel making the third benefit gravy.

"If we can redistribute grazing to get 10 percent more use of land and that replaces hay, CRYSTALYX® has been very valuable."