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America's Top Stewards

Celebrating its 14th year of honoring exceptional stewardship practices, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's (NCBA) Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) introduces its seven regional winners. An overall winner will be announced during the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show in San Antonio, TX, Feb. 2-5. ESAP's goal is to honor those farms and ranches that preserve their

Celebrating its 14th year of honoring exceptional stewardship practices, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's (NCBA) Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) introduces its seven regional winners. An overall winner will be announced during the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show in San Antonio, TX, Feb. 2-5.

ESAP's goal is to honor those farms and ranches that preserve their environments through innovative practices, while maintaining their operations' profitability.

“Those who spend their lives working the land embody the true nature of conservatism,” explains Megan Tipton, former NCBA coordinator of ESAP. “Every day is spent outdoors with natural resources, and our ESAP winners are role models for all of us. They demonstrate how today's landowners utilize creative technologies and innovations to run a viable, profitable and environmentally-friendly operation.”

A committee made up of university researchers, state and federal agency personnel and environmental organizations selected the seven regional ESAP winners.

Region I

McElhaney Stock Farm
Hookstown, PA

To protect their land from erosion problems, Richard and Kay McElhaney of McElhaney Stock Farms converted from crops to total forage production. They manage the fragile land through rotation grazing, broadcast/frost seeding, conservation tillage and riparian buffers.

The McElhaneys raise 100 head of Shorthorn cattle. They produce beef for packaging, sale and distribution to private individuals, and are partners in Mid Atlantic Genetic Production, a four-farm cooperative.

Richard is a strong supporter of sound grazing, and the family holds tours on the farm to promote proper grazing techniques.

To improve their land, the McElhaneys have worked with the Soil Conservation Service, Southwest Pennsylvania Project Grass, Environmental Protection Program, National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA) and many more organizations. As a result, they have produced higher-quality forages and more efficient watering systems, while protecting wildlife habitats.

Region II

Williamson Cattle Co.
Okeechobee, FL; and Faunsdale, AL

With two locations — in Okeechobee, FL, and Faunsdale, AL — Williamson Cattle Co. maintains a unique approach to ranching. Consisting of nearly 9,000 acres, it is home to approximately 2,300 commercial Brangus cows. The Alabama location is used to breed replacement heifers for the Florida operation.

In addition to the cow-calf operation, Frank “Sonny” Williamson Jr., and his son, Frank “Wes” Williamson III, grow citrus in Florida and are developing a catfish farm in Alabama.

Because the Williamson Cattle Co. Florida site sits on a basin that feeds the Everglades, water conservation practices are very important to the operation. They have worked to restore wetlands, allowing the water to return to a more natural cleansing cycle while enhancing wildlife habitat.

The Williamsons work with several environmentally friendly organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, NRCS, South Florida Water Management District and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Region III

White Family Farms
Estherville, IA

White Family Farms supports three branches of the White family — Craig and Margaret; their son, Brad, and his wife, Jill; and their nephew, Lance.

Craig and Margaret run 225 commercial Angus cows and a 300-head feedlot. Brad and Jill own 160 commercial Angus cows, run a 300-head feedlot and develop 100 replacement females annually. Lance feeds out 300 head of cattle annually and manages a 150-head commercial Angus cow herd.

The farm consists of 1,400 acres of row crops, 1,200 acres of permanent pasture and 320 acres of hay fields/pasture. Each branch manages it own operation, but all work together during crop planting and harvesting, and while working cattle.

Use of such practices as no till, minimum till, rotational grazing, conversion of row crops to pasture and hay fields, and building ponds and watering systems have greatly improved wildlife habitat and soil quality, and preserved land resources. The Whites also host farm tours to demonstrate the importance of land stewardship. They work with NCRS, FSA, Iowa State University, Iowa Great Lakes Controlled Grazing Projects and Cow Herd Improvement Service.

Region IV

Chain Land & Cattle Co.
Canton, OK

Running an environmentally friendly business is the goal of Ralph and Darla Chain, owners of Chain Land & Cattle Co. Maintaining the soils of Oklahoma's highly erodible landscape can be a challenge, but the Chains' grasslands flourish and provide the basis for improved local wildlife populations.

The Chains raise more than 2,500 cows and heifers each year. They run a purebred Limousin cow herd that is bred back to Red Angus bulls to produce crossbred bulls for their commercial cow herd. They also keep 500-600 mother cows on the Medicine Lake, KS, ranch, which are bred to Angus bulls. Coleman's Natural Beef markets all their raised and purchased calves.

The Chains work with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to develop an effective wildlife management program. Increased wildlife populations, which can cause problems, are controlled through leased hunting.

Additional stewardship practices include prescribed burning to control the spread of eastern red cedar, which is found in western Oklahoma and southern Kansas.

Region V

Barthelmess Ranch Corp.
Malta, MT

Located on the glacial plains of Montana, Barthelmess Ranch Corp. utilizes 12,000 acres of privately owned land, 11,000 acres of federal property and 1,700 acres of state leases. The Barthelmess family — Leo Sr. and Emily, along with sons, Chris and Leo Jr. — own 600 head of commercial cows and 350 sheep, and manage their land for forage production and native grass seed production. They also own a custom combining business.

The family bought the farm in 1964. Using rotational grazing, they've improved the native range, increasing vegetative coverage and growth. They've chiseled rangeland to increase water infiltration and to control invasive species like club moss. The improvements have dramatically improved big game habitat and upland bird and waterfowl habitats.

The Barthelmess Ranch was one of the first to complete the Undaunted Stewardship Land Certification Program, which recognizes ranches that sustain long-term productivity of Montana's grazing lands.

To achieve their goals, the Barthelmess family worked with several groups including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM); Ducks Unlimited; Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Montana State University Extension; Montana Stockgrowers Association; and NRCS.

Region VI

DC Cattle Co.
Globe, AZ

Forage is the most important natural, renewable resource in cattle production, and it should be managed accordingly, say David and Diana Cook, owners of DC Cattle Co., Globe, AZ.

The Cooks' core business is managing Phelps Dodge Miami Inc. Diamante Ranch — a cow-calf operation comprised of three U.S. Forest Service allotments, one BLM allotment and private lands. Together, they total 34,970 acres.

With their forage management program, the Cooks have increased the number of cattle grazing in specific allotments, increased forage diversity and density, and created more wildlife habitat. The changes they've implemented include establishing new waterways, cutting trails for better access to ungrazed areas, building and maintaining miles of fence, and promoting better grazing distribution by moving cattle using salt and portable waterers.

To better manage forages, DC Cattle Co. doesn't rotate cattle through pastures using set move dates, but makes rotation decisions based on forage utilization records. And, when cattle are rotated out of a pasture, a sufficient water source is always available for wildlife habitats in the area.

Region VII

Roise Ranch
Powers Lake, ND

To enhance grass production on his operation, Gerald Roise worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) to develop two-cell grazing systems. Roise signed with FWS to develop perpetual grasslands and wetland easements and utilized the NDSU Integrated Resource Management program for his ranch.

Roise, his wife, LuAnn, and their family run a commercial cow-calf operation and produce feed crops and alfalfa hay on 5,000 acres near Powers Lake, ND. The 260-head cow herd grazes 3,800 acres of native and tame prairie, while hay and crops are grown on the remaining 1,200 acres.

Additional stewardship practices the Roises implemented include studying wind energy as a resource on land ridges, developing a pond as a water resource to benefit cattle and wildlife, and working to protect endangered waterfowl species living on their land.

The Roises are considered leaders both in their community and the state. They work closely with several other organizations including the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, High Country Wind Power LLC, FSA and NRCS.

TAGS: Pasture