South Dakota 2023 Slovek Ranch Philip Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

Bill Slovek inherited more than some rolling acres of prairie from his father Earl. He also inherited his legacy of careful land stewardship.

Today, Bill is the primary land manager of Slovek Ranch’s nearly 26,000 acres of grazing lands alongside his wife, Pennie, and the families of their adult children: Bo, Brock, and Belinda.

Bill considers himself fortunate to manage land that was not worn out by his predecessors. Although his father didn’t have today’s water and infrastructure resources at his disposal, he did have the foresight to not overgraze the ranch.

His father also kept an open mind after Bill graduated from college, moved home, and began buying land, developing water infrastructure, and tearing out old fencing.

By 2001 Bill was installing cross fencing to divide pastures and experiment with rotational grazing. He kept a close eye on the changes that longer rest times and more pasture rotations brought the grass and soil. Slowly but surely, he noticed better infiltration of rainwater, less erosion, and healthier grasslands.

After seeing the initial results of his new grazing strategy, Bill developed more pastures and water infrastructure. Slovek Ranch now has 60 pastures and three herds moving across it, so at any given time 57 of their pastures are at rest.

A more intensive grazing rotation has resulted in pounds of forage continuing to increase on every pasture. Those gains are achieved by having adequate water distribution on the landscape to evenly spread out grazing and decrease unnecessary land disturbance. With assistance from the NRCS, the Sloveks installed almost 30 miles of water pipelines and 120 tire tanks.

Leaving behind enough of this year’s grass growth provides the necessary shade, protection, and moisture to give next year’s grass growth an advantage. Slovek Ranch’s grazing system has produced an increase in the diversity of plant species across the landscape. Not overgrazing also provides feed and habitat for wildlife and threatened grassland birds and pollinators.

Over the years, the intrinsic value and uniqueness of intact grasslands motivated Bill to become a dedicated student of the land in tandem with growing his family’s cattle business. To make room for the next generation, the Sloveks recently purchased a second ranch near Kadoka, where Brock and his wife, Ashley, raise 400 beef cows. The new ranch also features intact native grasslands, interspersed with badlands.

Slovek Ranch is a regular host of tours centered around grazing management, and its efforts have earned several conservation and beef industry accolades. Much of this is thanks to Bill’s ability to pay close attention to what worked, and maybe more importantly what didn’t. Bill has evolved into a conservationist whose years of careful observation, mimic an approach resembling Aldo Leopold’s own way of studying soil, plants, wildlife, and people’s role on the landscape.

Bill’s ability to adapt and innovate has produced an improved landscape and conservation ethic that he can hand down to his children.

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