“The ground is a living part of the ranch,” says Deb Brown. “Not only do we raise horses and cattle, we raise grass, too. And alfalfa. We have about six inches of topsoil that’s keeping us from starvation and we need to take care of it. So, we do.”
The survival of animals, forages and this ranch family depends upon the health of the soil, water and air. That’s a powerful incentive.
“In essence, we’re trying to take care of the land using a variety of practice that may need to change even weekly depending upon the amount of rain or snow we get, or don’t get. Cattle play a great role in a successful stewardship system. We select our cattle for their productivity and ability to thrive on less resources. We try to improve every year,” says Deb.
A few years ago, the term “sustainability” became commonly used to describe what many ranchers termed as stewardship, conservation or maybe land management. “I understand why some of our neighbors don’t like the term sustainability because ranchers were accused of being everything but sustainable,” says Deb. “But it’s the word now engrained in society so we need to use it to have meaningful communications.”
But, as Deb says, “Drought changes things. You have to think outside the box. What you did before might not always work.”
That doesn’t mean taking care of the land is any less a priority. In fact, it is just the opposite.
“That’s why we need to be good stewards of the land,” says Deb. “So when we do have tough years, we don’t overgraze and we don’t abuse the ground and we give it a chance to come back.”
Like other measures Deb and Sterling take to protect the land, the ranch’s drought plan is designed to protect long-term pasture health. “We are in drought mode right now,” says Deb. “We started with our drought plan last year.”
That plan included culling the herd. “We’re facing this as an opportunity to add drought resilience characteristics to our herd,” Deb explains. Lower productivity animals are being culled, leaving genetics that can better deal with drought conditions.
This year, when forages are scant and buying feed very costly, cutting down herd size is an obvious first step. “With our numbers less, we have less mouths to feed and less trampling of dry grass,” says Deb. “We are moving cattle to places they haven’t grazed much in the past, and allowing the fertilizer to settle in and retain the nutrients for grass to grow back.”
Part of caring for the land means raising feed efficient animals. Irish Black® cattle are smaller animals, and require fewer bulls. They are hardy cattle, who can live on less feed than some other breeds.