It’s the love of grass that made the Blue Bell Ranch what it is today: a place where cattle production meshes profitably with the care and maintenance of 5,000 acres of native grasslands and wetlands that serve as an “ecological anchor” on the southern end of the Prairie Coteau Hills in eastern South Dakota.
But it’s not just a love of grass that guides Herb and Beverly Hamann and their children, son Breck and daughter Arla Poindexter. It’s also a belief in working with nature, not against her. What that means for their management is conservative stocking of 1 cow calf pair for every 1 to 1.5 acres, rotational grazing that leaves plenty of stockpile, and moving calving time to May to improve calf survival and avoid harsh, early spring weather. They’ve also incorporated prescribed fire and biological control for invasive plant species.
The Hamann’s philosophy has meant even more to the diversity of the grasslands and the wildlife that make their home there. As Pete Bauman, South Dakota State University Range Extension Specialist notes, the grasslands have benefited from the Hamann’s “making decisions not to judge a thing or a plant or an animal on its exact value and worth today for what they can understand, but realizing that even if they don’t understand it, it likely has value and worth and has a place in the system and they’re trying to preserve that.”
The Hamanns’ grazing rotations are done with the consideration for ecological impacts. Their grazing practices allow the persistence of key species and large areas of habitat that coincide with wildlife needs at critical times, especially nesting. The family is proud of the sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie chickens that inhabit the ranch. These iconic grassland birds are increasingly difficult to find in the area, but the Hamanns often observe the birds throughout the year on the ranch.
Aldo Leopold said, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.“ So it’s fitting that the award that bears his name would go to the Hamman’s and Blue Bell Ranch.
For a visit to the Blue Bell Ranch and the beautiful grasslands that the Hamman’s manage, check out the 8:47 video below. You’ll also hear more about how they manage for the grass that they love.