South Dakota Grassland Coalition

By Kate Rasmussen

1. Water Holding v. Water Shedding Landscapes

Dust storms thick enough to hide semi trucks and flooded roads after heavy rains prompted Dean Lockner to convert his crop ground back to native range: “I really didn’t like what I saw. I decided I needed to plant something that held onto water and native grasses are a sponge,” Dean said as he and his wife Candice lead the Coalition’s latest Pasture Walk. Since converting to range-land, their topsoil and precipitation have stayed put come rain, wind, and drought.

2. Drought Planning

Droughts are the rule not the exception. The Lockner’s found “adaptive” rotational grazing combined with giving pastures ample R&R has allowed their land to better handle drought years.

3. Calving on Green Grass

The Lockner’s switched to May calving and haven’t looked back. Calving later allowed a more hands off approach to the usually labor intensive season: mother cows harvest their own feed and they’ve had fewer sick calves.

4. Questioning Popular Farming and Ranching Methods

Candice, using a large dry erase board covered in sticky notes, showed Pasture Walk goers the unnecessary inputs they’ve cut from their business over the past few years. She read off the sticky notes—phrases like March calving, crop farming, making silage, etc. scribbled on each– before tossing them in a pile. The sticky notes stood for everything they did before they began asking A.) why they managed their operation a certain way and B.) if the management practice actually increased profits. After asking these questions, they couldn’t justify continuing to oper-ate their place the way they had for years.

5. Stepping Back

“The grass here grew because of what I didn’t do,” Dean said as he spoke on how he rearranged his business to run on nature’s terms rather than the farming mentality he previously relied on. Bugs and forbs in particular benefitted the land more than he’d previously given them credit: “If we just get out of the way, this stuff takes care of itself.”

Special thanks to Dean and Candice Lockner for volunteering their time on the July Pasture Walk. Dean and Candice gave over 40 attendees a glimpse into some of the setbacks and successes they’ve experienced as holistic land managers on their ranch in Ree Heights, South Dakota. Together, they covered topics ranging from grassland pollinators to making sustainable profits. For more information on up-coming pasture walks, visit

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