While growing up on a small dairy farm, Bill Sproul dreamed of owning his own cattle ranch. With the support of his family, Bill purchased the land that is now Sproul Ranch, and manages a herd of beef cattle with his wife Peggy and their son Raymond.
Located on 2,200 acres in the transition zone between the Chautauqua and Flint Hills, Sproul Ranch sits on the last landscape expression of tall grass prairie. When the Sprouls purchased the land, it was overgrazed and was rapidly being overtaken by invasive woody plants. After removing nearly 30,000 trees in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and adjusting cattle stocking rates to a sustainable level, the restored native tall grass prairie began to thrive.
The Sprouls closely monitor prairie productivity on their ranch. When a drought hit, Bill significantly cut his stocking rates to allow the prairie to recover over the course of a few years. In some areas, Bill deferred grazing altogether.
When asked about his approach to conservation, Bill said, “I always let the prairie dictate what I do.”
Rather than perform annual burns on every acre, he uses patch-burn grazing, where a third of his pasture is annually burned on a rotational basis. This burn schedule helps to make sure ground-nesting birds have suitable habitat and sufficient ground cover. While his livestock grazes burned patches, vegetation accumulates in the unburned area for wildlife.
Bill continually seeks to understand and enhance the ecological community on his land. Working with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, annual breeding bird surveys have been conducted. To survey pollinators on his land, Bill invited Kansas State University’s entomologists to study the effect of patch-burn grazing on pollinator populations. The Sprouls also installed nest boxes for barn owls for natural rodent control.
“Watching, interacting, and listening to Bill leaves you with the understanding that he believes the plants, soil, livestock, wildlife, insects, neighbors, and of course himself, are all in this community together. Each just as important as the other,” said David Kraft, State Rangeland Management Specialist for the USDA.