Local ranch practices holistic management

By Katy Nesbitt/The Observer August 21, 2013 11:18 am
Andrea and Tony Malmberg raise beef cattle in Union County. There’s nothing unusual about that — but their techniques are somewhat outside the realm of conventional.

Andrea Malmberg said the previous owners of their ranch on Cricket Flat grew wheat, but the land had been in a Conservation Reserve Program and out of production for 20 years.

“It was completely rested, but a monoculture of brome grass,” Andrea Malmberg said.

Through what she calls holistic management, the ecosystem of their grazing pasture has drastically changed.

“There was a lot of bare ground, but now the species diversity has increased and the amount of bare ground has decreased,” she said.

She said proper livestock management was the secret to their success. 

“The ground needed hooves to regenerate and the cattle add organic matter through their manure, as any good gardener knows,” Malmberg said.

Now she said nitrogen fixing plants are on the landscape as well as more forbs and flowering plants. 

“We just want more diversity more than anything,” she said. “It provides better nutrition for cattle and wildlife.”

Malmberg said Cricket Flat is their summer pasture and they winter their cattle in Union.

“People think we are crazy, but coming from Wyoming, Union seems pretty nice for wintering,” she said.

In Union, Malmberg said they seasonally lease their water rights. With help from the Fresh Water Trust, Bonneville Power Administration pays farmers and ranchers to keep water in the stream for salmon habitat as part of their mitigation responsibilities.

Andrea Malmberg said most of the deals they do are split-season leases. 

“We make more money leasing water than putting up that third cut of hay,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for ranchers to do good and make more money.”

Tony Malmberg said Fresh Water Trust offers ranchers and farmers another option to manage their resource base and improve the diversity of their income stream “Part of our ranch we irrigate early,” he said. “Early water adds more value in early season to growing hay than it does during the hot season.”

He said in the early season, 1 acre foot of water grows hay that can bring in $250. That same foot of water in July and August would only bring in $50. By leaving it instream, BPA pays them $135 per acre foot of water.

However, Malmberg said what works for them isn’t necessarily what works for everyone.

“What we do on our place is not applicable in every case. Not everything is the same — soil, crops, different situations,” Tony Malmberg said. “Fresh Water Trust has different tools to manage water better and ranchers can possibly increase their income.”

The Malmbergs market their grass fed beef locally and in Portland and Boise, Idaho. Since Staffords in Elgin opened its USDA processing plant last year, they’ve been using their facility.

On Sunday, they opened up their ranch for a Slow Food beef and beer event showing off both of their ranches in Union County.

“The whole point of why we are doing these tours is we want to increase the financial viability of farmers and ranchers,” Andrea Malmberg said. “In Union County, 40 percent of Conservation Reserve Program checks leave the state. By grazing our land instead of having it in CRP, we are more profitable and bringing money into the community.”