Water quantity is one of the biggest challenges to productive ranching in the Northern Great Plains of Montana. As of June 22nd, 2022, the US Drought Monitor indicated that approximately 91% of Montana is in D0 (abnormally dry) to D3 (extremely dry). The challenges to cattle ranchers are two-fold. A 1,500-pound cow drinks about 8 gallons of water per day, and ranchers need to purchase or produce enough hay and/or stockpile winter forage in the form of grass to feed their cattle throughout the long Montana winter. Hay becomes difficult to grow and more expensive to purchase as precipitation levels decrease. Audubon Conservation Ranching is working to help ranchers alleviate water constraints on their ranches.
Through our partnerships with National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Montana’s Audubon Conservation Ranching (ACR) has delivered funding to upgrade 25,776 feet of stock water pipeline on a Roundup, MT ranch. This pipeline battles water constraints in two important ways. First, it feeds 7 water tanks along a 4.8 mile stretch of rangeland to directly water cattle. Second, it opens up acres of the ranch to previously unutilized pasture, increasing rotational flexibility in pastures, pasture rest periods, and heterogeneity in grassland structure. The rancher can now use cattle grazing to improve grassland conditions, which functions to stockpile more winter forage. This reduces the need to feed cattle hay in the winter and also creates excellent grassland bird habitat!