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Relationships With the Land Keep Ranchers Going in Hard Times

By   /  November 16, 2020  /  2 Comments

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This week we’re taking another field trip – this time to Colorado where we hear a story that is being told more and more often in the West. It’s about drought, and its impact on agriculture. Today we’ll learn how three ranches have used their relationships with the land, and their good grazing management to make it through these hard times.

According to the Open Water Data Initiative, Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has experienced the driest 16-year period in over 100 years. It’s also the fifth driest period in the last 1,200 years when the region experienced a 25 year drought in the 1100s. In fact, the drought has gone on so long that some are calling it by a new name: “Aridification.”

This 11 minute video is a collaborative project of Audubon Rockies and American Rivers, two organizations that understand the value of working landscapes to communities and wildlife. We’ll visit the San Juan Ranch in Monte Vista, Hershey’s Four Mile Ranch in Pagosa Springs, and Audubon’s Kiowa Creek Ranch and Sanctuary in Colorado Springs and learn about the changes they’re making, their relationship to the land, and the hope they have for their land and water legacy.

These ranches are in my home state, and I’ve spent a lot of time in each of these areas. So this video feels like “going home” to me. I also take these lessons from it:

A Drought Plan is something every grazier should have. This On Pasture ebook can get you started.

• Each of these ranches is responding to drought by changing their grazing management – destocking and moving animals to protect forage. Doing this well requires forethought and a plan that considers the economics and ecology of the ranch. Drought is not an “if” but a “when” proposition, no matter where you live. If you don’t have a plan, you can download “Drought Planning 101” from our Bonus Content page to get started.

• They all manage for preventing overgrazing and to increase their soil’s water holding capacity. Litter and keeping the soil covered means that even in the midst of drought, they still have grass. In fact, by building a relationship with the soil and the grasslands, George Whitten says the San Juan ranch has more grass than they can use.

• Relationships, with their landscapes and with their communities and built over a long period of time is what makes it all work.

What lessons will you take from our field trip?

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.


  1. One of the interviewees mentioned something about showing/witnessing urban people. The amount of water that runs off concrete and asphalt and lawns is huge and–although it may not directly benefit the three ranches in the clip–a change in urban and suburban planning is long overdue, in my opinion.

    One thing that bothers me on big ranches is the access cattle have to rivers. Isn’t there some way to keep them away from the banks?

    • Kelly McGarva says:

      Concentrated access is more damaging than unfettered access in most cases. Managed grazing minimizes the impact by frequent changes to the access points. Off stream water systems are used by many. Spring boxes or troughs with solar pumps.

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