Award Winning Cattle Operations


For cattle producers, sustainability goes beyond the loving care for animals, the land and water. It’s also about maintaining economic viability in the face of down markets, increasing regulations and extreme activism by those who demand their beef be raised on idyllic pastures—viewing everything else as a factory of unhappy animals in unhealthy conditions.

In the following pages, we profile three examples of leadership in conservation efforts that have achieved Environmental Stewardship Awards from the NCBA (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association). These award-winners not only conserve natural resources with good business practices, but also encourage and teach their peers and communities about new environmental best practices. That includes everything from grazing management plans, conservation tillage and soil tests to brush and weed control and the monitoring of range and grass utilization.

Ranchers Care

“When I first joined the NCBA committee 10 years ago to select these environmental winners from my post at the Nature Conservancy, I was truly impressed by the great things that ranchers are doing across the country,” says Peggy McNutt, now working with the Resources Law Group, in Sacramento, Calif.

“And over the course of 10 years, the most notable achievements are in the increasing care and concern for riparian habitats and thoughtful care of lakes, streams and drinking water. It’s often ranchers who are leading the way to protect headwaters and stream corridors, serving as examples to neighbors.”

McNutt also has been impressed over the years by ranchers who reserve parts of their land for species habitat, like quail and deer, where portions of their fields serve as feeding and grass cover. And she is continually amazed by the innovation and unique partnership that ranchers create with nearby businesses.

“A few years ago, the regional winner from California [the eventual national environmental winner] was a rancher who partnered with a local tomato processing plant to irrigate his fields with water left over from the production process—reducing its waste and saving the grower money on nutrients,” she says.

Dave Petty, an Iowa cattleman and winner of the national award in 2000, who cochairs the award selection committee, cites rotational grazing, greater distribution of water in pastures and conservation tillage in row crops as three activities that more and more cattle producers implement to increase productivity and profitability.

“None of us does these things to win awards. These practices are implemented to improve the environment, improve productivity and profitability, and increase our overall sustainability,” he says.

Telling Our Story

“One of the most important aspects of all the regional and national award-winners is that they all have made community and industry outreach a focal point,” McNutt adds. “They host field days for peers, tour groups, school kids and even international visitors.” And Petty echoes the importance of standing up and telling the environmental and sustainability story. “We have not done a good enough job standing up against our opposition and telling them what a good job we do and why. It’s vitally important for the survival of our industry,” he says.

Stoney Point AgriCorp, Melissa, Texas

DVM Mark Quinn runs this diversified, family-owned corporation, which comprises cattle feeding, dairy heifer growing and byproduct utilization. They also deal with the added challenge of their homeplace and feedlot location a mere 43 miles from downtown Dallas. As homes have built up near them, they have adopted many neighbor-friendly projects, as well as community outreach and youth educational efforts.

“We’ve bermed up the land around our feedlots [8,500-head capacity on 450 acres with four lagoons] so they can’t be seen from the road, and we keep the pens as clean as possible to help mitigate odor. We’ve also worked with a local concrete company to dump its unused concrete at our place, and we’ve recycled that to cement the dirt roads around our ranch to keep the dust down, the mud off the main highway and less truck wear and tear,” Quinn says.

But the real innovations for the feedyard and calf ranches begin with more creative partnerships. “Since we don’t have any available or affordable land around us to grow corn to utilize our lagoon water, we’ve discovered it works well on turfgrass. And there’s no phosphorus buildup in the soil because it is removed when the turf is harvested,” he says.

To help reduce feed costs, they get unusable and out-of-date bread from a bakery to supplement their feed ration. And to help feed the baby calves at their calf ranches, Quinn created a partnership to recycle expired dairy products from a processing plant and use them as calf milk replacer. He has created a business that sells these valuable feedstuffs as well. This saves on feed costs and uses products that normally end up in a landfill; they recycle the plastic containers too.

But perhaps their most unique environmental innovation is the calf ranch that was designed without the need for an expensive lagoon and irrigation system. “We had this moderate-sloped land where we set up the well-spaced calf hutches using grass strips to filter the water, keeping nutrients at home. At the end of the grass strips we used berms and taller grass to contain the solids,” he says.

Quinn worked closely with Ben Weinheimer, environmental engineer with the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA), to design the system. “This is truly the type of project that could help contain costs for small to medium-sized ranches,” Quinn says. “And we have the data to prove that the phosphorus levels are sustainable.”

Weinheimer says the filter strips are one of the innovative ways to help keep ranchers in business for the long run. “Other areas we’re working with feedlot owners on include air quality, dust emissions, greenhouse gas measurements and potential mitigation, and feeding rations that include wet and dry distillers grains. We have a lot of research projects going; we’ve helped feedyards obtain EQIP program funding for both a sprinkler system to keep the dust down and for more frequent manure removal,” he adds.

“Our members know there’s a lot of uncertainty due to greater potential for added costs and regulations of greenhouse gases. It’s frustrating when you look at 2007 greenhouse gas emission data which shows the entire beef population in the United States is only 1.5{4d08edaf359bc2115b18a651716ebd427a137946ddca2143fa23b3ea721061e4} of total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, and yet we’re undertaking huge efforts to measure greenhouse gas emissions,” Weinheimer adds.

For more information

Web site of NCBA Environmental Stewardship Program:

Dow AgroSciences Range & Pasture newsletters, with ESP winners:

YouTube videos of award winners:


Source: DTN Progressive Farmer

Posted by Kaci Switzer

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