With conditions ranging from gusting dust, to an exhilarating spring storm with lightening and hail, and ending in a calm blue sky, attendees celebrated diversity at the Ranching With Nature Workshop at Chico Basin Ranch southeast of Colorado Springs, Colorado on May 4-5, 2022.
In collaboration with Ranchlands, Chico Basin Ranch, Audubon Conservation Ranching, and Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, HMI held this first of three workshops dedicated to providing training on the interrelation between positive grazing management and the support of birds, pollinators, and wildlife and their habitats on holistically-managed ranches.
There was a balanced mix of participants from ranchers, to students, to conservationists, with over 75% of the group under the age of 45 years old. Their backgrounds included consumers, research/educators, backyard gardening enthusiasts, farmers, and ranchers overseeing ranches of 87,000 acres. The total number of acres influenced by the group was 516,300.
Tess Leach, Jonathan Tullar, Brandon Sickel, and the team from Ranchlands shared their knowledge on managing the Chico Basin and other Ranchlands properties and entities.
The Chico Basin Ranch is a working cattle ranch southeast of Colorado Springs, Colorado owned by the Colorado State Land Board, and managed by Ranchlands, a family-based ranch management company. The Chico’s principal enterprise is raising seedstock Beefmaster cattle, though additionally it houses a diversified land-based business mix: guest programs, hunting and fishing, leather product manufacturing, education programs for K-12, college students and adults, art programs and management training services.
For the last 20 years, Ranchlands has partnered with Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory to band migratory birds as the cornerstone of their education program. The ranch encompasses pristine shortgrass prairie with five spring-fed lakes and countless springs, making it one of the largest uninterrupted stretches of shortgrass and sandsage prairie left in the country.
As stated by Ranchlands, “the vigor of the native ecosystem (both above and below ground) directly affects our cattle, so careful management is a top priority for our business. When the land flourishes, every living thing that calls this place home benefits as well, from the minnows in the creek to the songbirds in the trees, the cattle in the pastures, and the ranchers as well.”
Grazing and monitoring training sessions were led by Wayne Knight, Executive Director at HMI, including how to determine key livestock production milestones and how to determine the quantity of forage in a pasture.
Ben Berlinger, a Rangeland Management Specialist who recently retired from the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Victoria Crowe with the NRCS Canon City Field Office conducted a rainwater simulation demonstration that illustrated how more water is captured and retained by healthier soils with living plants versus bare ground.
Ben provided information on maintaining soil health and healthy plants and how crucial that is particularly in times of drought.
“Especially in these dry times, we have to make use of the water we do receive. Ranchers and grazers can prepare their range to receive and hold water by how they manage the plants,” he stated.
After learning new methods and tools for grazing planning and monitoring, the group spent time in the field practicing the tools and discussing habitat management, with the added chill and thrill of a much-needed Spring storm.
Monitoring & Bird Habitat
On Day Two, the participants were able to move outside and enjoy the beautiful surroundings by a lake with yearlings listening and napping nearby as a reminder of how cattle and nature can successfully coexist.
Katie Merewether, Private Lands Wildlife Biologist, and Colin Woolley, Banding Manager, from Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (BCR) kicked off a rangeland roundtable discussion highlighting their experiences with Chico Basin Ranch and the bird banding and conservation that is conducted there. They then shared BCR efforts to work with land managers on increasing and maintaining critical habitats for birds, many of which have been on the decline in recent years.
Aaron Maier, a Range Ecologist from Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Program, added to the discussion, presenting Audubon’s efforts at developing the “Bird Friendly Beef” program and how it rewards land stewards who participate in the program by adding value to their products.
Discussions included how grazing and rest can be used to enhance the health of soil, plants, and a variety of habitats from upland to riparian for the benefit of numerous species.
The workshop addressed effective tools to use to maintain and monitor animal body condition, including a look at the calving heifers followed by a review of habitat and forage.
Ninety-five percent (95%) of the participants were satisfied with the workshop and 100% would recommend it to others. Others requested additional events like this in the future with even more information relating grazing, management, and nature.
Thank you to our partners Ranchlands, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Audubon Conservation Ranching, and Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. Special thanks to scholarship sponsors L&L Nippert Charitable Foundation and ISA Tantec and to Claudia Landreville and Dana McDaniel Bonham for their photographs.
Scholarship funding support comes from the L&L Nippert Charitable Foundation and ISA TanTec.