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Grazing as a Conservation Tool

There's an old saying in agriculture,"What's good for the herd is also good for the bird."

It's true. Grazing livestock provides quality habitat for birds and wildlife, but there are other conservation benefits as well. It's a conservation tool that can improve soil health and increase biodiversity.

Each year the Leopold Conservation Award recognizes the voluntary efforts of conservation-minded farmers, ranchers and foresters who improve soil health, water quality and wildlife habitat. In 2018, a majority of them grazed livestock on their grassland and crop fields to achieve environmental and economic benefits.

In the following profiles, you’ll meet four families who received the award in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Utah, and are using grazing to leave their landscapes better than they found them.

JACKSON FARMS: Third generation ranchers from Mountain View, Oklahoma, Russ and Jani Jackson understand the importance of producing food and fiber in a way that works with nature, not against it.

Their ranch's landscape once benefited when bison grazed it intensively and then moved on. They've applied the same principle by grazing a herd of 200 beef cattle on their crop fields and grasslands.

The result is a ranch that is productive, profitable and regenerative.


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RUSS JACKSON "The cattle love the cover crops. Not only are you feeding your cows well, but you're helping your soil." Photo by Dustin Mielke

CAMMACK RANCH: With its commitment to conservation, Cammack Ranch is a place where soil, grass, cattle, wildlife and a family legacy all thrive. Their land sustains 600 beef cow-calf pairs. Soil health, water infiltration, grass growth and beef production have benefitted from practicing rotational grazing. The Cammacks installed 20 miles of cross-fencing and more than 25 miles of water pipeline to make this work.

With an eye on enhancing efficiency, they utilize crossbreeding and moved their calving season to later in the spring to better match their resources with what Mother Nature provides.


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REED CAMMACK "These ecosystems are intact still today because we're able to graze cattle to benefit wildlife and us as well." Photo by Mitch Kezar

HARVEST HOME FARMS: Richard DiFebo’s career in the lawn care business had equipped him with an extensive knowledge of grasses and soil.

While researching the health benefits of grass-fed beef, he realized specializing in a niche market would fetch premium prices. Done right, grazing beef cattle would also restore the farm’s soil.

As a result, highly-erodible, conventional corn and soybean fields were planted with permanent grasses to provide pasture on his family's former dairy farm in northeast Pennsylvania.


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RICHARD DIFEBO "We took highly erodible land and put it into pasture, created a lot of biodiversity, better drainage, better soil structure, less runoff." Photo by USDA-NRCS of Pennsylvania

ERCANBRACK LIVESTOCK: Conservation of grazing land works hand-in-hand with success in the cattle business for the Ercanbracks of Coalville, Utah. The multi-generation ranch family is achieving more profit with fewer cattle, by adopting innovative practices (like a fence-line weaning system) while seeking niche markets for their Angus and Simmental cattle.

Prescribed rotational grazing has also lowered the threat of wildfire, as native grasses and vegetation are allowed to reseed, producing healthier forests.


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ED ERCANBRACK "As we are putting in our fence lines we will also put in a firebreak to help control a fire that might come across." Photo by Ron Francis

For more on the farmers, ranchers and foresters who have received the Leopold Conservation Award, click here.