South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Dan Rasmussen and Al Wind

March 2020

April of 2007

When Al and Simone Wind purchased their ranch east of Newell, the region was entering the 6th year of what would be a 7 year drought. But the lack of rainfall was further exacerbated by 50 to 75 years of bad range management. The only thing their future property had been spared was the plow. Overgrazing had weakened the native grasses and eliminated much of the grass and plant diversity. Al observed, “It had destroyed the mesic and riparian areas along the two creeks and numerous draws that wound through the ranch. A majority of the surface area was bare ground, with no litter and severe capping. This limited the soils ability to absorb and retain moisture during normal times, and increasing the deficit effect during times of drought.”

“The 3400 acre ranch had 5 pastures, but one was 400 acres of year round horse pasture and all of the other pastures were combinations of upland range, mesic and riparian areas all fenced together into large 450-750 acre fields. We knew we couldn’t do too much more damage”, Simone joked.“ It was mostly bare ground and cactus and broom snakeweed with the occasional western wheatgrass plant. They weren’t giving it away either, but we hoped if we could get through the first few years, with some intensive management we might be able to make it pay the bills”.

Jumping forward to 2020

The Wind Ranch has a new look. Instead of bare ground, cactus and the occasional western wheat grass plant. Now there is litter covering the ground between the grass plants. There is improved plant diversity and healthier native plants. They separated the range, mesic and riparian areas with permanent electric fence and manage each site differently. Al observed, “We now have cord grass, slough grass, willows, wild rose, sunflower, western snowberry, and cattails on the mesic and riparian sites, along with western wheatgrass. On the upland sites we have broken up the big matts of buffalo grass and blue grama eliminated most of the bare ground and increased western wheatgrass, green needlegrass, and forb production. In addition we have reestablished woodies like nettles salt bush, winter fat, and silver sagebrush that cattle and wild-life need when the native grasses start to dry out in the fall.”

Al clipped 500 lbs. per acre in `07. Today he is measuring 2500 lbs. per acre on native and twice that on hay-land. “We tried three different grazing styles over the years,” said Simone. “Because of a lack of pastures, we started with constant movement which we called ‘Flash Grazing’. In those first years sometimes we would make 3 rotations through the ranch, just trying to create litter and break up the soil crust. Then as we started to expand our water system and divide the big pastures into smaller ones, we slowed down to a twice through. Once we got to over a dozen pastures we started working on a once through with longer rest periods, but now that we have over 30 pastures and will eventually have 50-60 we can concentrate on improving soil organic matter and increasing plant diversity even more. The pastures that we have fenced down to 40-60 acres get a 3-4 day graze and then a 750 day rest. Those are the fields that show the best recovery, the highest yields, the most diversity, the most organic matter. Our goal is to basically graze half our ranch each year while the other half rests. And we’ve been able to do it while INCREASING our stocking rate.”

Al summarized:

“This is harsh country and our soil had virtually no organic matter left from decades of overgrazing. Moving our cattle through small paddocks every 3 to 5 days is bringing back the organic matter in the soil, fixing the riparian areas and keeping our rainwater on the ranch where it belongs.”

Source: SDGC Newsletter

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