Earlier this week, my family and I traveled to Billings, Mont., to speak at a Nutra-Lix dealer sales meeting. On the drive west, my husband and I marveled at the expansive prairie that eventually turned to a rough and rocky terrain. As ranchers often find themselves doing, we spent a good chunk of the time commenting on the cattle, crops and farm equipment we saw along the way.
With grain commodity prices the way they are right now, we were surprised to see so many fields of corn and soybeans, particularly on fields that had previously been pasture ground. Of course, as we saw in our own area of southeastern South Dakota; the ethanol super cycle that lasted from 2008-2013 motivated many land managers to plow native grasslands in order to plant row crops.
While I completely understand why many chose to raise crops on this somewhat marginal ground during the high in the market, I have to admit it broke my heart a little bit to see the native prairie grass plowed up, knowing the challenge of reclaiming and recovering that grass later on.
I have nothing against monoculture; to the contrary, the corn we raise is used to produce the beef I love. However, as a rancher, I’m not only passionate about our cattle, but I also care deeply about the rolling hills of grass we manage and am dedicated to maintaining the productivity of this land as nature intended.
I appreciate the diversity of these mixed grass pastures, which are still abundant with bees, wildlife, flowers and native grasses. Plus, I know our cattle fit well in the pasture ecosystem, aerating and fertilizing the soil as well as reducing the spread of wildfires by grazing down the brush.
There’s a meme going around Facebook right now that makes the point about city folks who live in the smoggy concrete jungle of urban areas blaming cattle grazing on pastures as huge contributors to greenhouse gases. The meme includes two contrasting images depicting both ideas, and the stark contrast between the big city and a remote pasture with cattle on it paints quite the picture for people to think about.
I wish consumers only knew and understood that a rancher’s livelihood and longevity depends largely on how well he can manage his healthy cow herd, as well as his ability to take care of the land they graze on. From weed management, to rotational grazing, to reseeding as necessary, there are many benefits to having cattle graze on wide open land, and that includes federally-owned land, as well.
I recently read an article featured in South Dakota Magazine titled, “Saving our native prairie,” that I think speaks well to this topic of grassland management. Written by Jerry Nelson, the article clearly shows ranchers’ love and appreciation for the beauty and bounty of native grasslands.
Nelson writes, “Conscientious ranchers still zealously protect the prairie. Perhaps some are motivated by the exquisite beauty of wildflowers in spring and the bronze and purple hues of prairie grasses in fall. Some protect native grasses and forbs because they know the plants that evolved on our sometimes unforgiving plains survive the fiercest cold and drought our climate can deal. But ranchers also know the superior nutritional value of native prairie for growing the most healthful meat.
“The prairie has many friends — ranchers whose grandfathers homesteaded the land and who would sooner cut off an arm than plow under the legacy of 10,000 years, scientists, soil conservationists, hunters and fishermen who know that prairie produces wildlife, and city folk who plant tiny scraps of prairie in their backyards because its beauty thrills.”
Give the article a read by clicking here and let me know what you think. What efforts do you make to maintain the grasslands you manage? Have you seen more pastures plowed in your area for monoculture or development? Share in the comments section below.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.
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