The University of Arizona

Elk management strategies and profitability of beef cattle ranches.

W.L.F. Torstenson, M.W. Tess, J.E. Knight


Computer simulation was used to determine the effects of wild elk (Cervus elaphus) on available forage, cattle herd size, and ranch gross margin in southwestern Montana beef cow-calf production systems. Data collected from 5 southwestern Montana ranches were used to develop input parameters for bio-economic models of elk forage harvest and beef production. Input parameters described ranch resources, animal inventories, and animal management. Cattle herd size ranged from 241 to 1147 head. Elk numbers varied by season within ranch and ranged from 49 to 421 head. Ranches were simulated as currently managed with elk present and with 10, 20, 30, and 100% of the elk removed. Simulated management scenarios were replicated 10 times. Data from each ranch were analyzed by one-way analysis of variance. Cattle herd size, gross margin, and available forage significantly (P < 0.05) increased when all elk were removed; however, the magnitude of these effects differed among ranches. Removal of all elk permitted cattle herd size to increase from 7 to 32% across ranches. Annual costs of elk on the 5 ranches (i.e., increase in gross margin from elk removal) ranged from $5,949 to $21,152. On an AUM basis, elk costs ranged from $8.55 to $14.51. Three management alternatives were evaluated for their potential to recover elk costs: Montana's Block Management Program, coordinated exchange of forage use, and leasing of hunting access. For each ranch, at least one of these management strategies could recover all estimated costs of providing elk habitat. Elk can significantly reduce profits for cow-calf ranches in southwestern Montana. Elk impacts on beef enterprise profits are closely associated with efficiency of resource use by cattie-i.e., ranches with lower unit costs of production lose more gross margin by providing forage for elk compared to ranches with higher production costs.



leasing;livestock numbers;interspecific competition;simulation models;ranching;habitats;hunting;production costs;stocking rate;Cervus elaphus canadensis;wildlife management;range management;Montana;grazing;beef cattle;forage

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