Get out there! Go to farm shows, grazing schools, field demos and tours – that's one thing Rick Doud, Midland, S.D., say learned as he transformed his ranch.
Rick and his wife, Marlis, recently received the state's first Leopold Conservation Award from the Sand County Foundation in cooperation with the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition.
The Douds were recognized in part for their transitioning from a season-long to a rotational- grazing system, and establishing a summer calving program to better match their cows nutritional needs with the land's grass production.
In 1999 and 2000, Rick attended the Ranching for Profit school. He started experimenting with rotating two herds through three pastures each. Rick noticed that every time they moved the herd, the cattle acted like it was lush, new regrowth, even though little regrowth was apparent. They noted that their cows were quieter and less stressed, which they believe equates to less health management costs and more pounds of beef being produced.
In 2002, the Douds moved their calving date to May 12. They move all cows to summer pastures after May 1 and start rotating through seven different pastures while calving. Their first rotation is anywhere from five to 10 days per pasture. The second rotation is from eight to 14 days with most pastures getting a rest period from 30 to 90 days.
In cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, the Douds have planted three shelterbelts, each with five to six rows of trees, to catch snow for runoff and provide bird nesting cover and wildlife habitat.
The Douds have a drought plan of destocking by May 1 if adequate moisture has not been received. Older cows on the ranch are tagged differently, so they can be identified easily and sold first in the event of inadequate moisture. The next group to sell is the yearlings if range conditions
"When I was first started out, I thought that the only way to get ahead was to stay and home and work as hard as you can, which is alright to point," Rick says. "But there are so many things out there for you to learn, to observe …there are people out there willing to help you, to tell you what you are doing and how you can improve, what they've failed at and what they've accomplished and how you can go on and learn from their mistakes so where you don't have to make those mistakes again."
See a video interview with the Douds produced by the South Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Service at www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX0G5LY5_Fo.