The whir of a windmill can be heard over the rustling of dried grasses in the wind. Red and white Hereford cattle trail along, moseying up a gradual incline to reach the cool, blue water being pumped into a large round tank. A few scatter off to graze on the summer browned grass and search for a safe place to rest. Others walk toward the new fence that crisscross the prairie. The once young frisky calves graze with their mothers, their sleek coats gleam in the sun. Off in the distance on the other side of the pasture a pickup truck bounces across the landscape. It pulls a trailer carrying a brand new tire-tank. Soon this area will have its own water source and hopefully livestock distribution will be improved.
Water developments like a new water tank are known as structural range improvements. Other structural improvements include the construction of facilities or fencing. Range improvements can also be non structural, and include such things a prescribed burns or range seedings.
If you are thinking of implementing a range improvement it is best to do a cost/benefit analysis. A cost/benefit analysis is a simple technique that you can use for any type of decision whether financial or not. There are two purposes for doing an analysis. 1) To see if a range improvement is a sound investment and 2) to provide a basis for comparing different types range improvements.
There are typically three costs associated with range improvements. The actual cost of the project; the cost of deferring management until the project if finished—sometimes called the feed gap in seeding and prescribed burn projects; and the cost of extra stock once the range improvement is finished. Depending on which range improvement you are implementing the costs can vary greatly but typically fall under one of these three categories.
Benefits of range improvements may include increased livestock carrying capacity, improved forage production, improved wildlife habitat, reduced soil erosion, enhanced land value, increased recreation opportunities, or improved water quality. All these items have the ability to increase a ranching operation’s bottom line; however when doing a cost/benefit analysis we typically look at increased livestock carrying capacity and the associated increased income from being able to sell more calves. However, it is important to think through the entire set of benefits that you hope to gain from a range improvement and try to estimate a dollar amount that can offset the cost amount for a certain project.
For example improving wildlife habitat can increase the number of big game animals in the area and thus you may be able increase hunting fees if you allow hunting on your privately owned property. When putting in range improvements you can enhance the land value of your property and thus measure how much money you could potentially receive if you put your property up for sale or lease.
Range improvements can have large impacts on a ranching operation’s ability to produce forage for livestock or wildlife. It is important to understand all the costs and benefits to a project before implementation. Typically your local Extension Office can help you with understanding a cost/benefit analysis as well as a pay off schedule–or how long it would take for the initial cost of a project to start generating income for your operation.
That same herd of Hereford cattle are gathered around a new tire tank, slurping the cool fresh water that has been pumped by the quietness of a solar panel. As the drink their fill they wander off to graze the tall native grasses, that haven’t been grazed as heavily or at all. The ranchers stand near by next to his pickup truck and marvels at the pleasantness and sweet small of fall in the air.
For instructions on installing a tire tank–check out this video by University of Wyoming Extension Educator Dallas Mount.