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Ray Bannister

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Big Muddy rancher

Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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Big Muddy valley
I have heard of Ray Bannister for years and his style of range management. Does any one have first hand experience with what Ray is doing? I think he is in that Miles City area .
He ranches SW of Wibaux MT. That is east and north some from Miles City.

From what I have heard he tries to mimic how the buffalo used the range before humans were here to control things. His ranch is fenced into numerous pastures, and he grazes a pasture extremely hard till even the some of the brush is consumed, and then gives that pasture a rest period of up to a couple of years. I cannot tell you specifics of the number of pastures and the like, but that is a rolling badlands country with cedar, and hardwood draws with some berry trees also. Lots of shelter in places.

I believe he focuses in on the long term health of the range above all else.

I have seen what simple rest rotations will do for an area, but his method ratchets things up a few notches, and is more complicated.

Hope I helped some.
Thanks Jake. That is about what I had heard as well.
We have gone from basically 2 big pastures to 6. 3 of those are breeding pastures that get used quite hard one year then get 2 years rest. We are just in the middle of the second 3 year rotation and the grass is really reponding. Even the pasture that was used hard last year recovered very quickly because the root reserves and litter were still in place not like pasture grazed more or less continuously. The biggest peice left is used every year but only dormant season. The cows are put in after breeding about Sept 1 and left until the New year if possible except to wean the calves.

It would be nice to hear some other range management practices on here.
I am currently fencing everything into about quarter sections. The idea is to graze for about 3 to 5 days at a time and then move. A little shorter grazing in the spring and longer in the fall and winter.

I run yearlings with a few pairs in them to lead them.

Worst problem I have is finding one person with enough yearlings to make a big enough bunch. Most folks want to run seperate.

If you move often, you cut down the flies a bunch.

Basicly I am training the cattle to get very competitive and eat what is in front of them and not leave the less desirable grasses. Yearlings seem to intensively graze more so than pairs. Haven't picked up a taste for just certain plants yet, is my guess.

I am trying to leave some of the pastures every year, until the seed head is set, so as to re-plant. I guess I am mimicing a dick/mower/harvester all rolled into one.

So far I have about 15 pastures and will have 20 or so when I am done.

Water is the key. You must have enough water to be able to water lots of thirsty cattle all at once.

Weight gains seem to be good and species of grass have been improving.

We've had about 10 inches of moisture so far this year and I have about half of the place grazed so far. Having hell trying to get all the crested wheat grass grazed all off at the right time.

If you want more info, pm me for my phone number.
Jinglebob I will call you some time or maybe we can visit in deadwood. I hope to come. We used to run yearling and didn't have very good grass usage but with some cross fencing our grass has improved . Using the 3 breeding pastures has been working real good with 1 used quite hard and the others resting I have seem improved grass and I think reduction in some weedy species. We ran on mostly native grass but use some srested and it is difficult to get them to eat it when not fenced seperately. In Sask we are working on a new range health monitoring protocal that with little training a rancher could use it quite handily. We will talk again. Micheal
BMR, you will go right by Ray Bannister's on your way to Deadwood. I can get you a phone number and I bet you could have your own tour. We never have gone there, but one conservation person that used to be here, really wanted to take us there. It is quite interesting.

Be aware, though, that Ray runs low input-low output Hereford cattle. He does not care about weaning weight, his main object is raising grass. The person that wanted us to go there did mention that he wondered why Ray didn't use black Angus bulls on his Herefords, to gain some more pounds on his weaning weight. I don't think Ray is a cowman; he is a GRASS MAN. He has trained his cows to eat snowberry bush and all the undesirables; and has been successful at it.

Let me know if you wish the phone number.
I was on a bus tour to Ray Bannisters a few years ago. He also gave a talk here a few years ago at the Ranchers Workshop. His system is quite controversal, most college proffessors and conservation people do not exactly agree with him but are willing to watch. We only spent about 1 1/2 hours on his ranch so I know but little about his operation. Looked to me like he didn't have that many pastures, but thay may have been quite large, he made the comment that he didn't have very good fences but that they were just boundery markers.

I believe he uses fairly long grazing periods but grazes very extensivly, forcing cattle to eat the Western snowberry, sage brush, buck brush, and other plants that cattle ordinarly refuse to eat, Then he will rest his pastures for about 26 months. He had mostly Herford cattle or at least English breeds, something that can get by on low maintainance rations. He said he could produce calves for $35 cwt. I don't know his land cost, but I doubt many of us could say that. I believe he also farms some, I think he mentioned rotating with sweet clover. He was asked why he didn't run cattle on all his land, and not farm, but he didn't answer that question.

The guy is quite a talker, but he wasn't trying to sell his program or his idea, just tried to get people to think outside of the box. He believes cows can be trained to eat certain plants that they might otherwise refuse. He also pointed out that trees and brush might produce more forage than our grasses

For what it is worth. from my observations, I find yearling are less selective on what they graze than cows. But, I also believe cows and calves are more successful when used on extensive grazing systems than yearlings.
We don't ranch on the scale that many of you do, but have been trying to get everything crossfenced the last couple years so we can graze hard for a short period of time and then move on. Also try to keep a pasture or two ungrazed to use if we have an open winter, lucky we have had a couple such winters in a row. Saves on feed cost!! The rotation really helps the pastures. The grass can fight the weeds when its given a chance and I think we are getting 30-35% more on the same ground that we used to run all season? Really works for us, although the crossfencing has become quite expensive. Could go to a more reasonable electric but have stayed with permenent barb so we don't have to worry about power going off?
Hey Jinglebob, it sounds like you are heading down the right track. It is a lot of work, but your bank account will like it in the end. I don't want to get too small of pastures, as the labor gets to be more intensive than what we can keep up with, but we rotate several bunches through a system simular to what you are aiming for. We move about every 6=7 days when we first get on our summer pasture, and then by fall it may be 10 days to two weeks.

I think one mistake some people make is to look at it as how many cattle they can run, as opposed to thinking about the better pasture conditions in the future. We put our system in not to run more cattle necessarily, but to carry over the most grass possible. Drought can raise cane with that plan, but we really have not cut back on cattle numbers with low rainfall. Calf weights have increased noticably even with later calving dates. The water we developed had a lot to do with this I am sure.

The only thing that might not be perfect about our system is that maybe more numbers of cattle would force them to eat more of the undesireables. We are restricted by a major hi-way some for herd rotations, but it seems to work very well for us. We hope to keep working on maximum grazing days per year, as that has helped our bottom line.

Our system is only cow/calf, and breeding heifers at the moment.
Oh, and we have 4-5 pastures/bunch.
This is interesting. I know their is a right and wrong but their are many ways to do this right depending on conditions and management styles. We try to run one big herd of cows thru our 3 breeding pastures by using one heavy and trying to force consumption of less desireable species with the other 2 resting. We then go to a larger pasture for the fall and early winter grazing using it only dormant season. That part is working great with not much exrta work or less work after the fence was done as the cattle are close for checking.
The problem is spring and early summer before breeding to give those pastures the needed rest, and close to the buildings.
One thing that I have read about and do a little of is to have a "sacrifice" pasture. it is a smaller pasture or lot that yopu can keep cattle in and feed hay or other forages in to save your other pastures. If done right the hoof action of the cattle will do your farming for you.
When we lived in Western Montana, we were only 3 miles from town. Our daughter was one of the first three girls in FFA and Vo-Ag. Since we were so close, a lot of the field trips were done at our place.

I remember the Vo-Ag teacher talking about the resevoirs in the cow tracks when it rained. I had never heard that before, and I never forgot it. Just take a look at a cow track after a rain. There will be a little water standing in it. Keeps it from running completely off the land.

Wish the eviros would take a look at things like this. Poor ole' cows always get a bad rap with them.

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