Innovating to succeed is a trademark of the 130,000-acre C.S. Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico run by the Davis family since 1873. The CS Ranch is comprised of three main sections of land: Headquarters at 29,000, the Clayton Place over near Springer at 40,000 acres, and the Crow Creek which is 60,000 acres.
The ranch has continued to evolve over the years as family members have been involved in varying degrees with a variety of enterprises and projects including quarter horses, cow-calf and beef finishing, farming, camping, hunting, and (more recently) a mercantile store.
Adaptation for Success
Les Davis, the patriarch of the family, embraced Holistic Management as one necessary innovation in the mid ‘80s, a hard time for ranchers given the depressed cattle prices. Linda, Les’ wife, and their children, Warren, Bruce, Kim (Barmann), Julia (Stafford), Randy, and Kirk, were all involved in the operation at that time. Warren ran one grazing cell of the ranch, while Kim ran another grazing cell. Julia came back in the late ‘80s and as an attorney has handled the CS Ranch’s legal work. Randy was interested in the horses and started the hunting enterprise. Bruce at one point was running 2,200 head of yearlings at the Headquarters. After Les’ death in 2001, Kirk became president of CS Cattle and was in charge of the farming operations until the decision was made to stop farming because of high input costs.
The CS Ranch is now run by five of the six children and matriarch Linda Davis with help from six employees. “I am most proud of the fact that all my children are interested in the ranch,” says Linda. And with that foundation of pride in the ranching heritage and new opportunities for enterprises, the transfer of ranch in time to Les and Linda Davises’ grandchildren (the fifth generation) is well positioned as a successful transfer.
Kim believes that because she and Bruce took their first Holistic Management course in 1984, the family didn’t have to sell off a lot of land to keep going during those tough times in the ‘80s. Because of the financial planning they learned, they changed enterprises and increased carrying capacity, while letting go of $180,000 of leased land costs that significantly improved the Ranch’s bottom line.
Kim also said the course helped them learn how to communicate better as a family and set family goals. In fact, the Davises used their holistic goal from the ‘80s to help them in developing the succession plan that evolved after Les’ death.
Kim said the Davises knew they had to change what they were doing given the changing ranching climate. For example, while all the family loved horses and the Davises had a long history with the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), including having been named Best Remuda in 2013, the family no longer engages in a quarter horse enterprise. They have continued to look at ways to improve the gross profit on enterprises as well as increase land productivity to keep the ranch viable.
As a result of the planned grazing they embraced (including improving water and fence infrastructure to move paddock numbers from 40 to 80), they have moved the predominant plant community they once had of alkali sacaton in the river bottoms and the rangeland dominated by 99% blue grama to having more than 18 species of grasses and lots of forbs and brush, like winterfat, that can be utilized by the cattle.
Kim first learned about Holistic Management when she went up to see Alice Moore’s place when Alice first started Holistic Planned Grazing. Alice was grazing 100 mother cows where originally she had only been able to run 20 heifers. Kim saw the fence line contrast on Alice’s place and asked how she had done that. Alice told her to get to a Holistic Resource Management school. So Kim went to a course taught by Allan Savory, Kirk Gadzia and Ken Williams.
“Holistic Management helped us look at the whole ecosystem of our ranch,” says Kim. “At one point there was 20-30 active beaver dams along the Cimarron River. We are working to create an environment that will bring them back.” But the first step in that process was to get the finances supporting the ranch and determining key infrastructure investments.
In the late ‘80s they increased their pastures and had improved the stocking rate to 15 acres/yearling or 26 acres/cows. However, during the drought of the late ‘90s they had to reduce their stocking rate to 40 acres/cow. However, in calculating various stocking factors, Kim estimates that they doubled their stocking rate during the period prior to the drought. To learn more about how CS Cattle is one of the several NM ranches who have achieved an almost 30% increase in forage through conservation ranching, view the NM Rangeland Productivity Study.
Currently the CS Cattle Company is under stocked as they work out water infrastructure needs on 40 miles of pipeline that serves both the Clayton Place and Headquarters. They have 600 owned cows and 770 yearlings that are paid on contract. They also have the grazing pressure of 1,000 head of elk to contend with.
Each fall the CS Cattle Company evaluates the amount of forage they have. The goal during the dormant season is to graze each pasture several times. Their focus on grazing has helped them move from a warm-season dominated rangeland to one that has five to six cool-season grasses in the mix. That grazing practice helped them have a longer growing season which typically had been from May to the end of August. Now it extends from April to October for an increase of 60-90 days of grazing.
Their hunting enterprise consists of eight elk hunts and 25-30 antelope hunts each year, making sure they have a healthy population of both species before determining the number of hunts to sell. In addition to the beef and hunting enterprises they also have timber and gravel sales and are exploring AirBnB options. When Kim came back to the ranch in 1982 75-80% of the ranch income was from the cow/calf enterprises. By 2001 that had shifted to 50% of the income as the family diversified their income streams.
In addition to the ranch enterprises, Linda, Julia, and Kim have also purchased the Cimarron Mercantile which they opened in 2020 as a community and educational venue as well as a coffee shop/café and place to market their grassfed beef.
The other experiment currently happening at the CS Headquarters is the effort to shift their three old alfalfa pivots (covering approximately 1,000 acres) to cover crops that they can use to finish their yearlings on. Julia is taking the lead and working with Gabe Brown and Ray Archuleta of Understanding Ag. The cover mix includes buckwheat, pearl barley, German millet, sorghum sudan, and some brassicas and sunflowers.
When these pivots were used to grow brome and alfalfa, they had historically been low production. So, in transitioning these field, they summer seeded sunflowers, turnips, daikon, and legumes. Then in the fall, they seed rye which has grown well. Ideally the cover crops and river bottom will be finish areas with some sheep integrated into these areas in the future for multi-species grazing.
Kim believes that Holistic Management gave the family the structure to set the ranch goals while their father was alive that has continued to help them through their succession planning after Les’ death. As Les noted before he died, “It wasn’t some pie-shaped grazing pattern Allan Savory taught us that made Holistic Management so important to us. It was how to communicate among ourselves.”
With that focus, the Davises developed the CS Legacy Ranch which is the land company portion of the ranch held as an. The CS Cattle Company then leases the land from the ranch for cattle operations. While Kirk is the president of the Cattle Company, each family member is in charge of the various divisions of the ranch. In another effort to protect the ranch land from development, in 2018 the Davises placed 8,435 acres in a conservation easement with the NM Land Conservancy on the Crow Creek allotment. Funding from the NRCS and the tax benefits of the easement helped the Davises to consolidate shareholder holdings and reduce debt, thus keeping the ranch whole.
Given the passion for the land and for ranching, the Davis family is invested in not only supporting the succession of the ranch to the next generation of Davises, but also supporting the community by developing a business in Cimarron that they hope will bring more traffic to the town and the other businesses there. Each year brings different challenges, but also different opportunities to evolve, learn, and continue to develop the CS legacy.