On the Flying Diamond Ranch, we believe that nature is smarter than us and that working with nature instead of against natures lowers our operating costs and results in sustainable ecological conditions. A key way we have lowered our productions costs is by pushing our calving season from March to May when the natural forage supplies meet the nutritional demands of our cows. Doing so decreased the amount of supplemental forage we provide our cattle during the winter and decreased calf death loss due to inclement weather. Our calving season also benefits wildlife; no coyotes are hunted on the Flying Diamond because they are not a threat to our calves due to the availability of other food sources during late spring.
We also base the management of our cattle genetics on the principle that nature dictates the ideal type of animal for the Flying Diamond. We cull strictly based on our females’ ability to wean a calf every year starting at the age of two. This system has resulted in a moderately-sized, healthy herd that thrives in thirteen inches of average precipitation and annual temperatures ranging from below zero to above 100 degrees. By growing our herd with cattle that succeed in our environment, we see longterm sustainability benefits for our operation.
Pairing stockers with our cow-calf operation also gives us flexibility to adjust AUMs based on the available forage on our range. The flexibility to raise our own replacement heifers or to sell those bred heifers if a drought has decreased our carrying capacity helps us to prioritize our most important resource, grass, over cattle.
We partner with a hunting outfitter and view that hunting operation as incentive to manage the ranch in such a way that healthy populations of wildlife coexist with our cattle. Our grazing practices benefit wildlife by encouraging a diverse mix of grasses and forbs and by leaving behind residual feed, particularly along our creek, which act as cover, especially for deer. Our extensive water developments make our rotational grazing system possible, but also provide reliable fresh water to wildlife. We use single strand electric wire for all of our interior fences, which is not only low cost, but wildlife friendly. In sum, we view wildlife not only as a source of revenue for the ranch, but also as an indicator of the health of our land, and in turn, the efficacy of our management practices.
The most impactful effort that has contributed to land health on the Flying Diamond has been the implementation of a rotational grazing system. Guided by the principles of holistic management, we have successfully practiced a high density/ low frequency grazing system since the early 1990s. Our rotational grazing system is supported by an extensive infrastructure of pipelines and fencing. With cooperation from the NRCS through the EQIP program, we have installed 20+ miles of pipeline, 7 water wells, 23 stock tanks, 100+ miles of single strand electric interior fence, and 4 livestock working facilities. The rotational grazing system on the Flying Diamond Ranch has, thus far, resulted in 91 pastures (paddocks), averaging 280 acres per paddock.
This water and fence infrastructure provides us the management ability to control and utilize herd impact to reach the levels of range improvement we are seeking. Riparian areas are either fenced out or grazed responsibly by monitoring and/or limiting herd exposure via rotation. This system ensures that each grazed area receives adequate rest; any one pasture is grazed less than twenty days per year. Our rotational grazing system has supported high levels of production, health, and fertility, both in our cattle and our rangeland.