Rock Creek Ranch
Unique Collaboration to Focus on Science, Outreach and Management of Rock Creek Ranch
A new collaboration is building good science and best practices for Idaho’s rangeland owners and managers in south central Idaho.
The 10,400-acre Rock Creek Ranch, near Hailey, is owned by and the , and is managed to conserve the area’s grasslands and to prevent future development. The University of Idaho joined the two landowners as the research and outreach arm of the three-pronged collaboration.
The first project is the Rock Creek Restoration and Reconnection Project, intended to improve water quality, stream function and provide fish passage between Rock Creek and the lower Big Wood River. A second phase of the project, addressing the needs of the northern part of the ranch, is slated for 2017.
A $1.1 million project is planned to improve riparian areas, wet meadows, and fish and wildlife habitat. It would also address recreational elements and public access.
One-hundred-fifty cows from UI’s Nancy M. Cummings Research, Extension and Education Center at Salmon are grazing the property as grazing management is a key component of the future of the property. The UI Rangeland Center will lead research at Rock Creek that focuses on the intersection of wildlife, recreation and sustainable ranching.
UI research will encompass the many aspects of the watershed – including wildlife habitat, water quality, grazing and more. The ranch has sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, elk and other wildlife species.
As restoration and research projects evolve in the coming years, it will be the site of tours, outreach and education for landowners, ranchers, students, legislators and more.
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Current Research Projects at Rock Creek Ranch
Project Aim: This project investigates if cattle identified as having different efficiencies in the feedlot maintain these differences on range.
Goal: To determine if standard measures of feed efficiency can be used to identify cattle that are more efficient on range and require less resources.
Brief Procedure: Primiparous cows (first calf heifers) of which 12 are classified as efficient and 12 as inefficient and their calves are enrolled in the study. Twice during the summer, cows are given a natural plant-based digestion marker to estimate forage intake. Also at this time, cows are fitted with GPS units and accelerometers. The GPS units and accelerometers stay on the cattle for a month. These two measures will provide data on how efficient the cattle are in using energy for grazing (i.e. amount of distance traveled and time spent grazing, walking, laying or standing). Cow body weights, body condition (fatness) and calf performance will be used to determine how effectively cows used the nutrients ingested.
Project Aim: This project compares productivity, cost and efficiency of cattle managed in a traditional Idaho management system including range to an intensive system using all irrigated pasture.
Goal: To determine potential areas for improvement as well as areas of excellence in each system with the future objective of developing strategies to improve sustainability of both systems.
Brief Procedure: Starting in 2016, 300 cows and their calves were assigned to traditional/Rock Creek system (n = 150) or intensive/NMCREEC system (n = 150). Cows were assigned to equalize age, weight, and productivity estimates. Once assigned to a system cows will remain in the system. Data will be gathered on cow pregnancy rate, cow body condition, cow weight, calf growth, calf health, and subsequent calf performance and carcass quality. In addition, cost of production estimates will be developed to relate systems to standard production costs. Each segment of each system will be analyzed for its impact on the measured traits. This is a multi-year project.
Project Aim: This project uses state of the art technologies to identify genetic or genomic markers for range adaptability.
Goal: To identify genetic markers either in cattle or the rumen microbiome that could be used to select cattle, at an early age, that are better adapted to the range environment.
Brief Procedure: Through the two previously mentioned projects, cattle that are phenotypically well adapted or poorly adapted to the range environment will be identified. Samples for DNA analyses will be collected from animals as well as the rumen microbiome. These DNA samples will be analyzed to identify marker genes or gene products that could be used for selecting superior individuals.
Project Aim: This project will document changes in general habitat use, roost site occurrence, and relative abundance of sage-grouse in response to wet meadow and stream restoration activities.
Goal: To identify which restoration activities result in improvements to late summer brood-rearing habitat for sage-grouse.
Brief Procedure: Pellet count surveys will be conducted before stream restoration efforts begin on Rock Creek. Pellet counts are a passive-sampling techniques that allow estimation of trends in habitat use and relative abundance.