2021 Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Annual Report
While 2021 was a year full of challenges and trials, it was also a year where we saw the intersection of “ranching, conservation, and communities” truly create “a winning team.” The severe drought, not just in our northern Montana counties, but across a large sweep of the region, brought with it feed shortages, water concerns, and even tough decisions for ranchers to destock their herds if their hunt for feed supplements or additional pasture came up short. However, in the face of that, the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance (RSA) truly embraced its mission leading to one of its most successful years to date.
We hosted multiple inaugural events and educational efforts, saw new participants seeking information from a larger region, forged stronger partnerships with those who shared our concern of preserving this range when drought placed it under pressure, and helped ranchers manage a bit more effectively by implementing water projects when they were needed most. And none of that could have happened if it wasn’t for dedicated RSA staff rolling up their sleeves, our loyal Board of Directors taking time out of their own strained schedules for the greater good of our collective mission, and our reliable partners continually seeing the need for and providing assistance through collaborative
Throughout this Annual Report, it’s evident the work RSA was able to achieve with the help of our staff, Board, and partners was necessary for not only ranchers, but for the greater good of our communities. Events like the Rural Resilience webinar series, the book club, and the Soil Health Tour convened thousands of participants craving more knowledge, seeking new relations, and embracing adaptive management to better their businesses, their local communities, and their part of this larger landscape. The miles of fence and waterlines, and the many new tanks and wells all illustrated not just the ranchers dedication to conservation, but our partners willingness to help improve this
ecosystem for everyone involved – people, livestock, and wildlife.
Looking back at 2021, we may initially remember heat, grasshoppers, water shortages, and drought, but let’s not fail to acknowledge the many wins we experienced – each one coming about because in the face of adversity, we chose to come together as a winning team working collaboratively for ranching, conservation, and community.
Leo Barthelmess, RSA Board President
View a full digital version of the 2021 Annual Report here. Want to receive a printed copy? Email Anna at [email protected] to request your copy!
2021 Impact Report
We’re so grateful that you’ve been a part of this Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Community over the past year. Together, we’ve made progress in our aim to help multi-generational and beginning ranchers build the collaborative, trusting relationships and community-based solutions we need to create healthy working landscapes and vibrant rural communities.
Here are a few highlights that you helped make happen in 2021:
Last year, the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance’s Conservation Committee worked with 18 ranch families in Phillips, Blaine, and Valley Counties to help implement grazing land improvements aimed to increase the resiliency of their ranch business, our grasslands, and wildlife habitat.
Ranchers Stewardship Alliance committed more than $377,000 to these projects. Conservation Committee partners and the ranchers & landowners themselves contributed another $1.8 million to the projects. That means that together, we invested more than $2.1 million in grassland & grazing improvements that impacted our local communities’ economies this year.
- 60 miles of wildlife friendly fence built
- 4,500 acres of grazing habitat restored to perennial habitat and native grasses
- 192,595 feet of water pipeline laid for enhanced water systems
- 60 livestock tanks installed with 25 bird escape ramps
- 5 new water wells for stock tanks for enhanced water systems
Our Education Committee cranked its efforts up a notch last year, too!
In July 2021, RSA partnered with Winnett ACES and area Conservation Districts to host a five-stop Nicole Masters Soil Health tour, gathering 221 ranchers across our region for hands-on soil health training and analysis.
The inaugural Graziers’ Gathering in October 2021 focused on elevating local ranching knowledge and experience in peer-to-peering ranching TED-styled talks. The event sold out in the first two weeks of ticket sales!
We hosted our first two Ranch Stewards Book Club sessions, featuring Nicole Master’s For the Love of Soil and Dr. Fred Provenza’s Nourishment. These virtual discussion groups created a community that spans the Northern Great Plains for inspiration to read, learn, grow, and create stimulating discussion around ideas that matter to healthier landscapes, people, and animals.
The first five sessions in the Rural Resilience webinar series shared world-class speakers and innovative ranching and conservation ideas with 944 registered guests, representing up to 26 different states, right in the comfort of our ranch homes!
We share these numbers and celebrations as a constant reminder that even in tough years — the years where drought tests our faith and economic challenges try our spirits — we can still grow and learn and build more resilient ranches, landscapes, and communities to not just weather the next storm, but to thrive in doing what we love.
Thank you for your support, encouragement, and participation in 2021.
You can help continue these efforts in 2022.
Our 2021 Impact Report is in the mail! Check out the digital copy here. We’re looking forward to growing stronger in 2022.
2020 Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Annual Report
In the midst of severe drought, we’re constantly reminded of the power of deep roots. The Ranchers Stewardship Alliance has been working to solve problems and create a brighter future for our ranches, our rural communities and the wildlife that depends on this land for more than 17 years.
Our organization has experienced some incredible growth in the past year. We’ve added new staff, we’ve added resources for more grazing improvement projects, and we’ve added big goals to our future plans. But we know we’ve only grown today because of the local, focused effort so many people have put in over the course of the past 17 years.
We believe this is how we help our own rural communities succeed. We start small, we focus on the positive outcomes we can control, and we recognize we must desire a clear solution more than we want to fixate on our problems.
Out here, we all want quality of life for ourselves and our livestock, we want a wonderful community to live in, we want these soils and water systems to work properly. As ranchers, we recognize we’re just a little piece of this big complex puzzle of life. Together, we can take good care of the pieces in our hands.
We’re excited to share this 2020 Annual Report with you, and to show you the pieces we’ve been working on. Our collective successes are only possible when we tap into the reserves of a deeply rooted community. We need each other to build a thriving future. I’m so thankful to live in the community we do, to work on the landscape we do, and to partner with the people we do. It’s a wonderful place to be.
Ranchers Stewardship Alliance Board President
PS — View a full digital version of the 2020 Annual Report here. Want to receive a printed copy? Email Madison at [email protected] to request your copy!
NextGen Fencing: The Future of Pasture Management
Montana rancher shares lessons learned with virtual cow collar technology in free May 18 webinar.
By Laura Nelson,
Ranchers Stewardship Alliance
He never thought he’d see it in his lifetime.
“This started with a conversation with a friend in the wildlife community,” Montana rancher Leo Barthelmess said. They discussed the challenges old, barbed—wire fencing posed to wildlife migration, and the cost and labor involved for a rancher to maintain and build new fencing. The expenses for both continued to mount.
“She said, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to have fences?’ I said, ‘Yes, but we won’t see it in you or I’s lifetime,’” Barthelmess recalled.
Just a couple years later, a conversation with a fellow Ranching For Profit graduate piqued his interest and connected him to company working to implement virtual fencing collars for livestock. He’s now in his second full year testing the technology on his family’s south Phillips County ranch.
Barthelmess and Vence, Inc., engineer Todd Parker will present “Ranching for a Resilient Future: Virtual Fencing for Land, Livestock and Landscape Health” in a free webinar at 7 p.m., Tuesday, May 18. Registration for the webinar is at www.ranchstewards.org. This is the final session in the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance’s Rural Resilience webinar series.
The Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, with support from the Montana Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) also released a short film called “NextGen Fencing” on the topic this week.
The virtual fencing collars use satellite positioning technology to contain livestock without the need for a physical barrier. The distribution of the collared livestock can be carefully and precisely controlled through Vence’s software interface, where grazing cells can be quickly moved or modified according to conditions and vegetation growth.
“We are more prepared to weather adverse situations because we have the tools and the opportunities and the options to change course rather quickly,” Barthelmess said in the video.
The Barthelmess family piloted the use of the virtual cow collars on 400 mature cows in October 2019. After a full year utilizing the technology in 2020, they continue to adjust their grazing strategy and learn alongside their cattle.
“A lot of what good ranching and stockmanship is, is taking good care of the land, and we’re bringing another tool to the table to help ranchers do that,” Parker said.
Barthelmess said he noted a very distinct change in animal behavior over the course of the past two grazing seasons with the collars in place.
“They have historic memory of where they graze and how they graze,” Barthelmess said. “We’ve made them graze places they’ve never grazed before.”
The ability to adaptably rest favored areas and force cattle to graze historically under-utilized pasture with the collars helps stockpile forages to move the ranch closer to its ultimate goal of year-round grazing. While Barthelmess says he recognizes a yard full of hay is a necessary insurance policy for a North-Central Montana winter, “Our long-term goal is to graze cattle out on improved forage 11-12 months a year. The cost of equipment is just too high to keep haying – we have to change our business model if we want to sustain the ranch.”
Barthelmess can adjust his grazing barriers on his home computer or iPad. The barriers upload to Vence servers in California and the new fence lines are live within 12 hours.
“Virtual fencing is going to be a game-changer in terms of cost and labor,” Parker said. “You’re able to do more fencing, and more flexible fencing. Stock density can go up, ranching efficiency can go up and all of this is going to improve the bottom line.”
While the virtual collars mean less time spent building or moving temporary electric fence, or repairing and building perimeter fence, Barthelmess says it doesn’t mean less time in the field – just different time. He now spends more time observing the cattle, noting the conditions of the grass and soil, strategizing how to improve the next pasture design and enjoying the land and lifestyle that he loves.
“We want quality of life for ourselves and our livestock, we want a wonderful community to live in, we want these soils and water systems to work properly,” Barthelmess said. “We’re just one piece of this big, complex web of life, and we’re just trying to manage the pieces we can manage.”
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About Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, Inc.: In 2003, 30 ranching families in northern Montana came together to resolve common problems they faced. Now known as the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, this rancher-led non-profit organization continues to work to strengthen our rural communities, economy and ranching culture. RSA exists to help multi-generational and beginning ranchers build the collaborative, trusting relationships and community-based solutions we need to create healthy, working landscapes and vibrant rural communities. Ranching, Conservation, Communities – a Winning Team!
The NextGen Fencing film, produced by AgriStudios, is available at https://youtu.be/0NSWoWCROus. Please contact Laura Nelson at [email protected] for to inquire about sharing an original version of the film with your audience.