Charley Orchard's tip for managing prairie dog populations typifies much of his approach toward solving problems on the ranch. He looks for long-term, sustainable strategies by working with the natural environment to improve productivity and profitability.
Mr. Orchard grew up near Ten Sleep, Wyo., on a large cattle ranch operated by his family for four generations. After graduating from Montana State University in 1984, he returned to the ranch and began developing a system for monitoring rangeland health and productivity. As his interest in range management grew, he returned to Montana State to complete a Masters degree, researching profitable, sustainable agricultural management practices. In 1994, he conceived an advanced range monitoring system for ranchers now called Land EKG.
After two years of applying and refining the Land EKG system on his family's ranch and a ranch he managed near Henry's Lake, Idaho, Mr. Orchard began consulting with ranchers and land managers on rangeland monitoring and management practices. In 1998, he opened a business, Land EKG Inc. He currently conducts land-monitoring workshops and consults with individual ranchers throughout the Western states.
The Land EKG system is detailed and comprehensive, yet easy for ranchers to set up and use. It involves laying out permanent transects within pastures, along which the land manager takes objective measurements of several aspects of rangeland health. These include factors influencing mineral cycling, water cycling, plant communities, and energy flow. Once a rancher establishes a baseline, subsequent measurements indicate trends within each category, indicating whether current management practices such as stocking rates or grazing intervals are having positive, negative or neutral effects on productivity. Ranchers using the process develop a graphic representation Mr. Orchard calls an "Ecograph," which illustrates specific strengths and problem areas in each pasture. This provides objective criteria on which to base future management decisions.
Mr. Orchard strongly advocates using cattle as range management tools, emphasizing controlled, rotational grazing as a means of improving and sustaining pasture productivity. Appropriate stocking densities and grazing intervals, he says, can improve water and mineral cycling and encourage a diversity of desirable plants while reducing brush and weeds and controlling erosion.
Mr. Orchard and his wife Sara have four children, Molly, age 12, Jon, age 8 and 6-year-old twins Anna and Jenna. His Land EKG office is in Bozeman, Mont. For further information, he can be contacted at: (888) 450-5354, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org