South Dakota Grassland Coalition

By Dan Rasmussen

Jan 2020


A tough year to be a rancher in northwest South Dakota. A perfect storm had spread across the Great Plains. A cow killing blizzard, drought, scary low cattle prices and land values so far into the toilet many land mortgages couldn`t float. Ray and Lin-da watched this “storm” eat up their equity and the land. The pastures hadn`t looked this bad in their lifetimes. There was too much bare ground and prairie sand reed. “We needed to improve our plant diversity in order to heal our land,” Ray observed.

The bank had given Ray and Linda a long rope. However, in 1984 debt to equity disasters were happening in every ranching community. South Dakota was experiencing its share of forced farm sales. The Gilberts knew they needed an “Ah Ha” moment that would literally save the ranch.

The help the Gilberts were looking for came in the form of a book on Holistic Resource Management by Allan Savory. After reading this book and others on HRM, they began fencing. As a result, they were able to rotate their herd through a series of smaller pastures.

Linda refers to Savory`s book as “the beginning.” The first steps were identifying the ranch resources and systematically building on each one. Examples of these resources are native plant diversity, Ray and Linda`s interests and experience, water, and potential fencing options.

Linda explains, “I wish we had gone through HRM schools to learn this stuff back in the 80’s. It would have saved much of the trial and error we went through to develop management plans that truly fit our ranch resources.”

Fast forward to 2020

The Gilberts have 30 years behind them of HRM management on the ranch.

Two wagon wheel rotational pastures were set up in 1986. As the Gilberts custom grazed year-lings and ran their own cows through these pasture rotations, the land began to change. The huge prairie sandreed patches began to thin out. Blue gramma was now growing in the middle of the patches along with western wheatgrass and beneficial forbs. The big herds were tromping enough grass into the soil to create a rejuvenation effect, promoting plant diversity the Gilberts had not seen in the past. Today, their stocking rate has increased and the land is healthier. The pastures hold water better so droughts are less severe. When the drought is over, the healthy plants recover much quicker than previous to HRM, contributing to the ranch’s increased long term stocking rate.

Linda concludes, “Today we are in a good place on our ranch. HRM has played a huge role in this success.”

Source: SDGC Newsletter

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