Deborah’s husband Emry Birdwell is a third generation rancher who first learned about Holistic Management practices from Allan Savory in the 1980s; around the same time he married Deborah. Emry worked leased land while Deborah pursued a career outside of ranching. In 2004, Deborah joined Emry in the ranching business when they purchased a 14,000 acre ranch to pursue their vision of a profitable and diverse business enterprise.
While Emry was well versed in ranching and holistic planned grazing, Deborah was eager to learn as well, so she took a class from HMI. Together Emry and Deborah have transformed their new ranch. The ranch had previously been managed conventionally. “It had the common wear patterns you see with a continuous grazing operation, with clear bottoms and lacking in grass,” says Deborah. They began running three herds of 1500 – 2000 steers each. “We make decisions based on the grass and adjust our stocking rates based on those conditions.” Their decision making skills have certainly been put to the test in the last couple of years. In 2011 drought hit their region hard. “We sold one herd and the drought forced us to combine the remaining two herds into one. We were a little fearful of that,” says Deborah. But it worked out well for them. As Deborah says, “It’s been remarkable. We are in our third year of drought and we’ve had our best financial year ever. We continue to run one herd moving them 4 – 6 times a day in the prime growing season. We’ve increased our gain from 250 lbs per head before the drought to 300lbs after.” Our per-acre gain is also better than the county average which is 40-60 lbs per-acre. Ours runs around 100-110 lbs.” Because of the increased gain and more diverse forage, they are able to take their animals off earlier in the season and reserve more forage for the fall.
Deborah is now studying to become a Holistic Management Certified Educator to deepen her own knowledge. “We really want to share what we’ve learned as well as support a new generation of ranchers.”