Sometimes farm and ranch tours can be a grind. There is usually a ton of information to digest. The facts and figures seem to come at you as fast as an angry Holstein bull. There are profits and losses to weigh and new ideas and practices to consider. You think about what worked, what didn’t and what might work for you. You hurry from one stop to the next. You have to run, run, run.
But it wasn’t like that during a recent tour of Blue Bell Ranch near Clear Lake, S.D.
We lingered long at archaeologically important rock circles in the pasture.
We lounged on the top of a hill overlooking a rare prairie fen.
We looked at grasses, forbs and flowers.
We jumped up and down on the peat soil and felt the earth move under our feet.
Blue Bell Ranch lies on top of the Prairie Coteau in northeast South Dakota, home of one of the last remnants of tallgrass prairie in the Midwest.
Blue Bell is a large commercial cow-calf ranch, almost 5,000 contiguous acres. It is operated by Bev and Herb Hamann, their son, Breck, and daughter, Arla Poindexter.
The Hamanns received the 2017 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award from the Sand County Foundation, the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition.
Most of the ranch is enrolled in permanent conservation easements.
“It’s kind of funny,” Breck said. “We are being honored for what we didn’t do. We didn’t farm; we didn’t break this land. We don’t manage it intensively. We take it slow. We don’t rush. We try to follow Mother Nature’s lead … and things work.”
Some of their “slow” practices include May calving, resting pastures a long time before re-grazing and using biological weed control methods.
It’s ironic, Breck continued, that “before the settlers came the Indians used to roam these hills; hunting, camping and fishing for a living. Then the white man tore up the ground to farm and work the land in order to make enough money to buy equipment to get his work done fast — so he could have time to hunt, camp and fish.”