Leopold Conservation Award Program - South Dakota 2018

South Dakota 2018 Cammack Ranch Union Center, SD Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

With its commitment to conservation, Cammack Ranch is a place where soil, grass, cattle, wildlife and a family legacy all thrive.

As newlyweds, Gary and Amy Cammack dreamed of owning a ranch. Both natives of the Union Center area, they purchased 320 acres of hay ground in 1978. By 1984 they bought the 927 acres of rangeland in Meade County that would become their ‘home place.’ Last year’s purchase of 1,000 acres in Wyoming grew their ranch to 11,000 acres.

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 within their herd and moved their calving season to later in the spring to better match their resources with what Mother Nature provides.

For winter cover on the range, they’ve constructed v-shaped windbreaks from secondary steel. Each is strategically placed to minimize the herd’s traffic over riparian areas. Additional wind protection (and wildlife habitat) is provided by the more than 30,000 trees the Cammacks have planted over three decades.

The Cammacks built their own tree planter with a water jet system to plant willow and cottonwood shoots. Once planted, they fence out the area to protect the tree shoots.

Their other innovations include a bale processor that cuts hay inside bales shorter. It’s better for cattle consumption and they waste less of it, as long, discarded stems can kill grass.  When harvesting hay, they use a driving pattern that allows wildlife to flush and escape.

“Our belief is that the health of range and the vitality of the wildlife population is a barometer of how well you’ll do in the ranching business,” said Gary Cammack, a fourth-generation cattle rancher. 

The family has operated Cammack Ranch Supply in Union Center since 1979.

“The effects of our conservation efforts, or lack thereof, will be evident 100 years from now,” said Gary, who serves as a South Dakota State Senator and chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. “A person can pass all the regulations you want, but if the conservation ethic is not instilled in the land managers or owners, it isn’t going to matter how many regulations you have.”

“We believe the term ‘environmentalist’ has been hijacked from the people involved in agriculture,” he added. “No one cares more about the land than the people who live there.”

The Cammacks’ four grown sons all have varying degrees of ownership in the ranch and cattle. Preliminary estate planning has taken place to ensure the fifth, sixth and succeeding generations of Cammacks are able to continue ranching in South Dakota. 

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