Tom and Mimi Sidwell operate an inspiring direct-to-consumer, birth-to-finish beef operation near Tucumcari, New Mexico. On the roughly 7,000-acre JX Ranch, they raise all-natural beef on native pastures using regenerative, holistic grazing methods. They have loved witnessing the land improve over the years with hard work and utilizing the cattle to restore the range. Since they purchased the ranch in 2004, they have been working hard to strengthen the ecological condition of the ranch, restoring the watersheds and removing infestation and invasive species. On June 15 & 16, 2022 thirty ranchers, farmers, educators, land stewards, researchers and students convened at JX Ranch for the Breakthrough Ranching: Managing for Profit, Nature, and Drought Resilience Workshop.
Wayne Knight, Executive Director and Holistic Management Certified Educator started the day off with a round of introductions. Folks joined us from all over the region, from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and ecosystems. Tom Sidwell, owner and operator of JX Ranch, shared his story of being an early adopter of Holistic Management and shared the results he’s had at JX Ranch and his previous ranches around New Mexico.
Tom shared his experiences and approach to ranching in this beautiful and challenging environment. He explained how water is his most precious resource. How making every drop of precipitation count in his herd management, plant growth and livestock watering system all contribute to getting his animal density as high as possible, his plant recovery sufficiently long to cater for variable rainfall and growing conditions. He described how valuable the investments he has made in a flexible and extensive drinking water system has been in achieving these management imperatives.
Tom explained how important maintaining animal performance is to achieving profit goals in a harsh environment, and how he uses protein supplements to enable his livestock to more effectively utilize poor quality food when there is limited selection for the animals.
Wayne followed Tom’s introduction and history with an introduction and overview of Holistic Management. Wayne explained why maintaining animal performance is so important. He spoke about rumen digestion and how it is a function of rumen microbial activity. He explained how to observe how well animals are faring and how to translate these observations into management strategies to ensure that animals are reaching key condition and production milestones at critical points in the production cycle. Time was spent on forage estimation and determining key “trigger dates” to which forage must be portioned to manage for drought risk and appropriate destocking.
Linda Pechin-Long, rancher and Certified Educator Trainee from the Kansas Flinthills explained how to safely and inexpensively determine the interaction of the 3 low-cost, high potential tools available to grazing managers: animal density, plant recovery time and depth of graze (the proportion of available forage removed) to observe how these interact and influence each other within unique soil and climate conditions.
After a delicious lunch of BBQ provided by the Tucumcari Ranch Supply, the group moved to the famous Old Route 66 eatery, Del’s, in Tucumcari for a reprieve from the 105 F degree weather. Wayne and Linda led a discussion on animal condition in the refreshing air conditioning at Del’s.
The next morning, to take advantage of the early morning cool, Tom guided a ranch tour. He showed and explained his water reticulation system, which is designed to provide flexibility in grazing moves and is practical for his management. All available wells are linked to provide the water extraction capabilities to any point on the ranch. This flexibility and pooling of water means that he has been able to increase herd size to achieve a threshold stock density and adequate recovery time for plants to regrow after grazing. He explained how paddocks and water make this possible.
Even in a drought year, Tom and Mimi’s ranch is carrying the equivalent of the official government stocking rate, having destocked substantially to make provision for a drop in forage production due to drought.
During the ranch tour it is evident that the Sidwells have significant soil cover on the ground. Run-off and erosion are reduced and water infiltration and the soil’s water holding capacity has been tested and shown to have significantly higher carbon content, which translates to higher water holding capacity over time.
A significant learning point in Tom’s story is how he has been able to utilize existing and new infrastructure in a way that optimized capital outlay to achieve the herd size and recovery time needed. For him it has been a worthwhile journey that was not overly costly when considering the increase in water infiltration, improved volume of forage he has been able to produce, and the viability of the entire operation.
The group visited the herd where Wayne had folks make observations about the animals condition and reviewed the practical animal monitoring points. The animals were in great condition, shiny coats, soft dung, contentedly ruminating by the water point.
Before lunch, Shaun McCoshum, a wildlife biologist, pollinator expert and habitat conservationist presented on the relationship between grazing management and pollinator health. He explained how poor grazing management can suspend plant and habitat succession while intentional grazing management can increase it.
After lunch, Amy Erikson of the Audubon Society and Tuda Libby Crews of the Ute Cattle Co. presented together on the benefits of creating wildbird habitat and how wild bird populations can be used as a key indicator to ecosystem health. Amy shared some frightening statistics about the decline of grassland bird populations explaining that 720 million grassland birds have been lost since 1970. She then presented the Audubon Bird Friendly Beef Program and shared a variety of habitat management plans, including Holistic Planned Grazing, that folks can adopt to provide and increase habitat for target grassland birds species. Tuda backed up Amy’s claims, sharing her real life experience managing for wildlife habitat and creating a wild bird sanctuary at the Ute Cattle Co.
Wayne ended the workshop with a presentation on the ecological implications of the tool of fire. Fire is a tool available, and consideration should be given to all the implications of fire, both positive and negative. Wayne discussed various strategies to use planned grazing to reduce fire risk. By planning to graze high-risk pastures more frequently and with higher density, the fuel load in these areas of a property can be significantly reduced with appropriate planning and understanding of growth and recovery. Wayne also introduced strategies of how to manage after a fire, he covered points on how much recovery to give before grazing, implications of removing animals after fire and what forage production can be anticipated after fire, either planned or accidental.
Participants stuck around after to continue the discussion as the HMI team packed up to head home. It was a wonderful two days of learning, sharing, conversations, connections, experimentation, ah-ha moments, and growth.
|Did you expand your network today by meeting new people or learning about resources available?||100%|
|Overall satisfaction of the workshop:||100%|
|Would you recommend this workshop to others?||100%|
|Do you intend to change management practices or apply ideas you learned during this workshop?||100%|
|Did you increase your knowledge of how to access the quantity of forage in a pasture or on a property?||72%|
|Did you learn how to trial, at low risk, the interaction of animal density, depth of graze and plant recovery time?||72%|
|Do you understand how to management the intersection of animal performance, forage availability and ecosystem health”||72%|
|Did you increase your ability to monitor and correct ecosystem processes trend if it is degrading||83%|
Thank you to the speakers who shared their knowledge and experience and to all the participants who joined us and made the workshop feel like a meeting of neighbors and friends.
And a special thank you to Tom and Mimi Sidwell for hosting us and for all the incredible work you’ve done over the years working with nature and not against it to create this exemplary environment and operation.
Scholarship funding support comes from the L&L Nippert Charitable Foundation and ISA TanTec.