Stewards represent cows, conservation, and you

The public and policymakers may have little understanding of nature or agriculture, but they have opinions. And they vote, regulate and affect your ability to operate. You deserve to be well-represented. 

That’s why the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) created a way to showcase cattle producers as effective caretakers of the land. Through the Environmental Stewardship Award, winners have earned positive media coverage, influenced policy and explained how properly managed cattle production is sustainable agriculture.

The program is funded by Corteva Agriscience™; McDonald’s Corporation; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Six cattle operations are new regional winners of the annual award. NCBA will name the 28th national winner Jan. 30, 2019, at the Cattle Industry Annual Convention in New Orleans. Here’s a look at this year’s winners.

Thunder View Farms

Philip and Richard Coombe — Grahamsville, New York

Thunder View Farms is a 130-cow seedstock, cow-calf and freezer beef operation on 1,500 rolling acres in southeastern New York. Water from the farm flows into a reservoir that provides 55 percent of the drinking water for New York City, 100 miles to the south.

To protect water quality, the Coombe brothers have fenced streams, planted trees to create riparian buffers and installed heavy use pads for winter-feeding at least 1,000 feet away from any surface water. The family installed 5,000 feet of pipeline to gravity-flow water to troughs. Cleaner water has improved cattle health. Rotational grazing has improved forage quality for better animal performance and extended the grazing season.

The farm gets $3 per pound carcass weight for cattle raised on grass and finished on 45 to 60 days of grain.

Landuyt Land and Livestock

Mike and Kari Landuyt, George and Kris Landuyt - Walnut Grove, Minnesota

In southwestern Minnesota, George and Kris Landuyt with their son and daughter-in-law, Mike and Kari Landuyt, farm nearly 2,200 acres and finish 1,400 head of cattle each year. The family uses integrated pest management, low-drift sprayer technologies and tissue sampling for both economic and environmental benefits. Their reduced tillage and cover crops improve soil health. They test all manure from feeding barns and take soil tests on each 2.5 acres of farmland, so feedlot nutrients can be used to best advantage without overapplication. As an alternative to grassed waterways, 15 sediment control basins with tile lines control runoff from fields. Another retaining structure for 110 acres prevents flooding.

The family maintains a native prairie on the banks of Plum Creek — the same one written about by Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame.

Birdwell and Clark Ranch

Emry Birdwell and Deborah Clark — Henrietta, Texas

Emry Birdwell and Deborah Clark bought their ranch in north central Texas in 2004 and operate it according to holistic resource management principles. They rotate 5,000 stocker cattle in a single herd through 340 paddocks on their 14,200 acres. Plant diversity has increased, benefiting both cattle and wildlife. Since they’ve owned the ranch, 95 percent of the bare ground has been covered by vegetation. When drought dried up earthen stock tanks, the couple installed 25 miles of pipeline, and Birdwell built a portable watering trough from a surplus propane tank.

Since 2004, the couple has tripled carrying capacity of the ranch. They produce 100 to 120 pounds of beef per acre, about double the county average. After adopting the one-herd system, the couple reduced the grazing period to nine months from year-round, so grass gets a complete rest in the fall. Total gain has remained about the same.

The Hahn Ranch

Chuck, Dusty and Buck Hahn; Cory and Jennilee Bird; Bev Bird; John Hahn; Dorothy Hahn — Townsend, Montana

In southwestern Montana, Hahn Ranch has operated for 110 years and today comprises 27,760 acres of deeded land and public and private lease. The ranch carries a 550-cow herd, and the family harvests irrigated alfalfa, wheat and malt barley. Minimum till, cover crops and composted fertilizer have improved soil organic matter. Where it once averaged 3 percent, it now approaches 5 percent. The increase in soil organic matter saves about 0.25 acre-feet of irrigation water per acre. Pivot irrigation and soil moisture monitoring have reduced water use on crops by two-thirds.

Riparian fencing, off-stream stock water systems and noxious  weed control are key elements in a watershed restoration. Through  the efforts of the family and others, Deep Creek has been delisted as  an impaired waterway.

Haleakala Ranch

Peter Baldwin; Greg Friel, Vice President-Livestock — Makawao, Hawaii

Haleakala Ranch encompasses 29,000 acres on the eastern slope of Haleakala, a dormant volcano on the island of Maui. The ranch, owned by 100 Baldwin family shareholders, is one of the island’s largest and oldest landowners.

Rebuilding from years of drought, the ranch currently carries more than 1,200 commercial cows. Thirteen monitoring stations document pasture trends and recovery. Managing invasive plants is a full-time job for three ranch employees, using targeted grazing, and mechanical, chemical and manual treatments. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service exempted 8,700 acres of the ranch from Critical Habitat designation because of the ranch’s voluntary conservation activities. Those efforts protect 55 endangered or threatened plants and two endangered forest birds. The ranch also hosts a recovery facility for the nene, Hawaii’s state bird and world’s third-rarest goose.

Moe's Feedlot LLC

John and Donita Moes — Watertown, South Dakota

The Moes’ operation in northeastern South Dakota comprises a  250-cow commercial herd, row crops and a feedlot permitted for just l ess than 2,000 head. Fed cattle are typically harvested at 13 to 14 months of age grading high Choice. Through selective breeding, John has increased the number of calves qualifying for Certified Angus Beef from 25 percent to 65 percent in four years. 

Rotational grazing has increased the farm’s carrying capacity by 10 percent to 15 percent. A system of sediment basins, holding ponds, a solid manure stacking area, piping, diversion dikes, channels and nearly 3 acres of drainage area protect water quality and allow collection of nutrients from the feedlot. John annually soil-tests to fine-tune manure applications as fertilizer on 1,200 acres of cropland. The couple has planted shrubs, native grasses and food plots to benefit wildlife.