For 96 years, the Ingalls family has owned the Roundgrove Ranch in Townsend, Mont. Producing food, fiber, wood products, and recreational opportunities, the ranch is spread across Broadwater, Meagher and Jefferson counties. In 2013, John Ingalls, owner and operator of the ranch, began working to improve the property’s soil health.
“We are trying to figure out how to operate for another hundred years,” Ingalls said. “And we feel that soil health is one of the areas we have to pursue if we’re going to do that.”
Last year was the first time Ingalls raised cover crops. His return: about $300 per acre.
“We are getting a little over a third of a pound of [weight] gain per day on the lambs,” he said. “We’ve gotten to the point where if we produce any more feed, we’re going to have to [either] buy more machinery, lease out our land or incorporate the livestock in a more productive manner than we have.”
Cover crops gave Ingalls about 200 more acres to graze. The additional grazing land allowed him to graze a bit longer and put more weight on the lambs before selling them. “The last couple of years, the longer we’ve waited, the market has been going up,” he said. “So we were able to capture a higher price for the lambs than if we would have had to sell earlier.”
For Ingalls cover crops serve a dual purpose: feed his livestock and improve the soil health. Adding grazing acres has been financially rewarding and improving the soil health is starting to show signs of success. “We certainly have a lot more worm activity than we used to have,” he said. Last year he bought a no-till drill and used it in various fields and settings, yielding different results and learning more about soil health.
However, growing cover crops is not without any challenges. Ingalls’s main issue is trying to figure what works best on his land.
“You’ve got to be able to do your own cooking,” he said. “You’re going to have to use your own equipment and figure out what will work for your operation. And once you get started on it, you’ll see more benefits and more possibilities.”
Ingalls said he wishes he would have learned more about no-till farming techniques a long time ago. “It would have been good to have been doing this 20 years ago. It would have made a tremendous difference for the quality of our soil to have been doing it then.”
But playing catch-up has not stopped him from trying new things. While he is seeing some success and is dealing with the challenges, Ingalls says he is not done learning. “We realize that it’s going to take more than the drill to improve the productivity of our fields,” Ingalls said. “We have to learn about residue management and become better with our crop rotations.
More from John Ingalls
Ingalls on Cover Crops (SWF; 22 seconds; 8.39 MB)
Ingalls on Soil Health (SWF; 16 seconds; 5.88 MB)
Cover Crops Serve Dual Purpose in Townsend, Montana (PDF; 2.93 MB)
|Ingalls’s no-till drill.||Ingalls’s sheep grazing.||Ingalls’s sheep grazed turnips.|