On October 25th, 25 participants attended HMI’s El Sueno Ranch Open Gate. El Sueno Ranch is a 10,000-acre ranch located north of Clines Corner, New Mexico. It is owned by Albert Lowry and managed by Chuck Kuchta. HMI Certified Educator Kirk Gadzia facilitated the day that began with introductions by HMI Executive Director Ann Adams.
Kirk had the participants introduce themselves so he could tailor the day to the participants’ needs. Then Albert Lowry and Chuck Kuchta shared the vision for the El Sueno Ranch that Albert purchased in 2014 and Chuck began managing in 2016. Albert and Chuck noted that the land had been used heavily, particularly near the roads and water, and production was lower because the land was still recovering. They have invested extensively in improving the fencing and water to move from 3 paddocks to 16. The water development has enabled them to push the water 5-6 miles from the well so they can better utilize the forage across the landscape and provide adequate recovery.
After Albert and Chuck shared the story of El Sueno, Kirk presented on the key components of Holistic Grazing Planning and Biological Monitoring so participants had a better idea of how these processes were being used at El Sueno and the challenges that Albert and Chuck have had to face in their implementation. The key focus for El Sueno is developing infrastructure and engaging in enterprises that keep the operation of the ranch simple so Albert and Chuck are able to engage in other professional pursuits part-time. The ranch is currently stocked with 150 pairs that are a contract grazing lease only during the growing season.
Before lunch, HMI’s collaborators spoke about their programming and how they can provide additional resources to the participants. Presenters included Sarah Wentzel-Fisher, Director of the Quivira Coalition, who talked about Quivira’s Carbon Ranching program; Joan Bybee, Board member of the Southwest Grassfed Livestock Alliance (SWGLA), who talked about the webinar series SWGLA is offering to producers about how to improve the outcomes of their efforts to direct market their grassfed products to consumers; and Jon Hayes, Director of Audubon NM, who talked about their Bird Friendly Beef Certification Program.
After lunch, the participants climbed on to a hay wagon to tour the ranch, including stopping at a number of the 7 monitoring transects Chuck monitors using the Bullseye Method. Participants were able to learn about the numerous forbs, grasses, and shrubs that are on the ranch as well as note what areas showed higher levels of production and discuss why.
The tour also included looking at two of the seven water lots that Albert and Chuck have developed to improve distribution of water. These water lots also include the power for the three strand electric fences that were built with the bottom wire at 22 inches to accommodate pronghorn antelope to go under as well as a top height of 44 inches to accommodate elk going over. In addition, Albert has determined that the next investment will be to have wildlife drinkers outside the water lots for the antelope as they do not like coming into the cattle panel area that surrounds the water lots.
The last stop of the tour was at a headcut that had recently developed in a riparian area near ranch headquarters. In a four-inch rain that happened this year, the cut increased in length by 15 feet. While roots of the grass plants were impressively deep (averaging two feet) as seen from the headcut, there was much discussion about what might stop the erosion from continuing with further heavy rains. Discussions and questions included how to trap sediment with local materials near the cut to build up the streambed downstream of the headcut and how to induce meandering upstream of the headcut.
Thank you to our funder, the Thornburg Foundation, for their support of this event. Thanks also to our sponsor Twin Mountain Fence as well as our collaborators: the Quivira Coalition, Audubon New Mexico, and the Southwest Grassfed Livestock Alliance.
|Topic/Process||% of participants increasing |
knowledge or changing behavior
|Understanding the value of grazing planning and recovery periods||80%|
|Ability to monitor indicators of healthy land & ecosystem processes||70%|
|Attitude towards holistic grazing planning||100%|
|Do you intend to change management practices or apply ideas you learned during this event?||86%|
|Overall satisfaction of the event||100%|
Participants particularly enjoyed:
Learning about cool season grasses, paddock design & biological monitoring
Networking with others
Learning about monitor indicators, soil health and plant biology
Learning about Holistic Management & soil health
Learning that leaving behind half of plant helps prevent root loss
Learning about plant species & erosion control