Our Practices

Our Ecological Practices

As part of our commitment to ethical stewardship and sharing, we believe its important to be transparent about what exactly our practices are on the ranch, why we do them, and what we hope the long term impact will be.

Pasture Stitching

Pasture stitching is the act of seeding an area that already has plants growing. It is a way to introduce more species and increase biodiversity in irrigated pastures and range sites to fill niches that are absent in the current ecosystems of our ranch. It comes from a no till way of thought so there is very little soil disturbance, which means the seeds we sow are being planted into healthier and more stable soil. This year on seed mix included 13 species, a mix of annual and perennial pants. When it’s an option, we aim to use native grasses as they are already genetically developed to survive in Montana weather conditions. Some native plants we have added in past years are sideoats grama, switchgrass, indian rice grass, and slender wheatgrass.

More on the topic:

Overseeding legumes in natural grasslands: Impacts on root biomass and soil organic matter of commercial farms (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140771)

Management Intensive Grazing

Management intensive grazing mimics the movement and grazing patters of large herds of ungulates, such as bison. Our cows are moved daily or more often when grazing on live forage. This amount of movement and limiting their space keeps them in tighter bunches, which encourages them to graze their pasture evenly instead of selectively. Even grazing means our cows will consume a wider variety of plants as well as keep them from going after their favorite plants so intensely they graze them to death. It also lays down plant material and fertilizer evenly across the pasture. Management intensive grazing plans also have a long term element. This means creating a plan that varies what season each pasture is grazed, to make sure plants aren’t being stressed in the same way year after year and to allow the land time to rest. Over time management intensive grazing increases the water infiltration and creates healthy soil.

More on the topic:

Management Intensive Grazing by Jim Gerrish

The Art and Science of Grazing by Sarah Flack

Composting

B Bar started the composting process in 2019 and finished our first batch in 2022. Our compost is made up of slaughter waste from our local meat processor, a combination of bones and offal, and woodchips, and is capped with partially digested compost. Making compost allows us to reduce the amount of waste we create and instead create a product that adds nutritional value to the land. Since there is no rendering facility in the area, if we did not find a way to use this waste ourselves and turn it into something beneficial, it would be sent to a landfill and let off a large amount of methane gas while decomposing. Composting it ourselves also allows us to close the nutrient cycle, returning nutrients that were used by the cows back into the land.  We spread our compost in both its solid form and as compost tea to increase the soil life. Historical grazing practices in Montana have reduced the topsoil considerably. Adding compost increases soil amounts and the compost tea introduces even more microbes capable of creating additional soil and increases the diversity of the soil biota, making it healthier.

More on the topic:

Community Scale Composting systems by James McSweeney

Biochar

Biochar is another product we make out of what would otherwise be waste. We take bones and old fence posts and through the use of our retort create a stable carbon material we can add to compost. The addition of biochar helps compost retain more water and also creates a home for microbes that reduce methane production.  Bone char also has high levels of calcium and phosphorus, which here in Montana is something the soil is generally lacking. Overall biochar is a great soil amendment and the nutrients found in it are able to be passed on to the plants growing in it.

More on the topic:

The roles of co-composted biochar (COMBI) in improving soil quality, crop productivity, and toxic metal amelioration (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2020.111443)

Monitoring

B Bar started our monitoring program back in the mid 90’s in order to gauge pasture health and inform management decisions. Originally monitoring just included ground cover, species diversity, soil moisture, and plant vigor. Since then our monitoring has expanded to include soil biology, respiration, infiltration, plant available nutrients and soil biology genetics. All of these aspects of pasture health enable us to track the health of individual pastures and the overall health of the ranch. This data guides our grazing plans and any management treatments, such as pasture stitching and compost application, to correct or improve any issues. The level of information we get from monitoring allows us to make those corrections precisely, targeted at the areas that need them, going as small as half an acre, rather than broadly applying them across an entire section (640 acres).

More on the topic:

Bullseye! Targeting your Rangeland Health Objectives by Kirk Gadzia and Todd Graham