When you ask Herb Hamann about his conservation ethic and why he goes the extra mile to improve the land, he will simply give a shrug of the shoulders and say that “it’s just the right thing to do.” Herb and his wife Bev, along with their children, Breck and Arla, own and manage Blue Bell Ranch. The family is strong in their belief that their base asset is the grassland itself, and the cows are simply the tool to harvest the grass.
Working with nature is an important component to the Hamanns’ adaptation strategy. Previously calving in March in April, the family now enjoys reduced stress calving in May. Later calving has reduced labor needs at critical times and ensures improved calf survival by avoiding harsh early spring weather. Early calving also has the added benefit of optimizing grazing opportunity to control early season invasive Kentucky bluegrass and smooth bromegrass that occurs in some pastures.
The Hamanns’ grazing rotations are done with the consideration for ecological impacts. Their conservative grazing practices allow the persistence of key species and large areas of habitat that coincide with wildlife needs at critical times, especially nesting. The family is proud of the sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chickens that inhabit the ranch. These iconic grassland birds are increasingly difficult to find in the area, but the Hamanns often observe the birds throughout the year on the ranch.
In 2012, over 1,100 acres of the ranch were treated with fire for the first time in memory. To this day, Herb still talks about the long-lasting, positive effects of fire on the grasslands, cattle, wildlife and weed control. In the future, the family would like to experiment with fire again.
Over 5,000 acres of the ranch are protected under permanent easements, making Blue Bell Ranch an ecological anchor for the southern end of the Prairie Couteau Hills, which is the largest remnant of northern tallgrass prairie in the lower 48 states. For the Hamanns, enrolling land in easement programs is not about the money; in fact, the Hamanns did not hesitate to donate 270 acres of valuable land to an easement. They were motivated by the idea that for every one acre they donated to the program, up to three acres might be protected through additional easements on other ranches.