Successful Farming - - CONSERVATION - By Mitch Kezar

If rancher Dan An­der­son has learned any les­son the past cou­ple of years, it prob­a­bly would be ti­tled, “Give It A Rest.” That doesn’t ap­ply to hu­mans, live­stock, or cat­tle dogs; it ap­plies to grass. By learn­ing to give his grass a rest, An­der­son’s ranch is un­der­go­ing a trans­for­ma­tion.

An­der­son and his wife, Sharon, raise sheep and cat­tle near Meadow, South Dakota, pop­u­la­tion a dozen or so. The town has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the farthest point from a McDon­ald’s in the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. No Big Mac’s here, but it is home to flocks of prairie birds and herds of pronghorn an­te­lope and mule deer.

Grass Trans­for­ma­tion

An­der­son’s hand grabs the horn of his well-worn sad­dle as he swings down from his horse, boots creak­ing in the stir­rups. As he dis­mounts, he ex­plains the ranch’s grass trans­for­ma­tion. “When we worked with Ryan Beer at our lo­cal Nat­u­ral Re­sources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice of­fice to de­velop a graz­ing plan, one of our main fo­cuses was to re­tain as much rain­fall and mois­ture on this ranch as we could.” It’s work­ing.

“We’re in a frag­ile en­vi­ron­ment here,” he ex­plains. Rains vary each year. The ranch usu­ally gets 14 inches of mois­ture per year, but some years see one third of that. “We have to be care­ful not to over­graze and lose what lit­tle top­soil we have,” says An­der­son. “We’re us­ing a multispecies graz­ing method, graz­ing both cat­tle and sheep. There is an over­lap of 40% of what sheep and cat­tle con­sume, leav­ing quite a lit­tle of what one species over the other doesn’t eat. We try and take ad­van­tage of all the stuff we do grow on this ranch to pro­vide in­come for us.”

Win­ter graz­ing is im­por­tant. The An­der­sons formerly fed about 2,500 pounds of feed per cow to get them through the win­ter. That now has dropped to about 700 pounds per an­i­mal.

“We try to graze as much as pos­si­ble through the win­ter, but it all de­pends on Mother Na­ture,” says An­der­son, look­ing out over the prairie. “We used to feed six months out of the year; we’re now down to two and a half months. The sheep get only a lit­tle corn sup­ple­ment dur­ing the win­ter months, so they graze all year. The rea­son we can do that is be­cause we give the grass a rest,

“We have to be care­ful not to over­graze and lose what lit­tle top­soil we have. We’re us­ing multispecies graz­ing on both cat­tle and sheep.” – Dan An­der­son

Dan An­der­son has learned not to over­graze the rolling hills of his sheep and cat­tle ranch near Meadow, South Dakota.

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