The Otter Creek Ranch of Keith County has received the Nebraska Section–Society for Range Management award for excellence.
The SRM Rangeland Management Award was presented to Don & Joyce Tisdall and K.C. Peterson at the Society’s annual meeting banquet held Oct. 9 in Ainsworth.
The award was presented by Curtis Talbot, past president of the Nebraska Section.
Ranch grass management
The Otter Creek Ranch is named after the meandering stream that springs up in the Sandhills five miles north of Lake McConaughy.
Otter Creek is one of few streams in Nebraska capable of supporting trout in the cool, pure water that surfaces from the ground and flows over a gravel creek bed. Don and Joyce Tisdall purchased the ranch, which includes the headwaters of Otter Creek in January 2000, as well as adjacent grassland property later on.
Tisdall and ranch manager K.C. Peterson promptly to put in place improvements that enhanced their ability to manage grazing for years to come on the ranch, as well as improve the natural function of a rare watershed in Nebraska.
Three herds of livestock utilize the grasslands, mostly cow-calf pairs but also some yearlings.
Tisdall and Peterson began working early in the process with Twin Platte NRD staff and Natural Resources Conservation Service staff at Ogallala. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff also provided an partnership on the streamside portion of the project, along with other grassland conservation professionals.
Tisdall and Peterson found that USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and a partnership through the Sandhills Task Force would help them meet ranch goals, which included developing a planned grazing system still in use today. The new management approach in conjunction with such improvements as additional livestock water sources and pasture fences have allowed the ranch grasslands to improve considerably, officials say.
Fences were installed on both sides of Otter Creek, limiting the time and season in which cattle were allowed to graze the stream banks. Before fencing out the stream, cattle would drink there but not travel far to graze, tearing up the stream bank and grass nearby, and leaving it open to erosion. Also, upland parts of the pasture were underutilized.
After the fence was installed, native vegetation grew back to protect the stream corridor as a buffer strip. Vegetation stabilized the stream banks and improved the water quality for fish and other wildlife, as well as for cattle that use the area on a limited, managed basis.
At the time the stream was fenced, a new water pipeline was installed to provide more watering locations in pastures above the creek. The new drinking sources, as well as cross fencing, allowed for better grazing management in the hilly creek pastures.
Beyond the Otter Creek pastures, more than three miles of livestock water pipeline and several new water tanks improved grazing distribution.
Another part of the creek corridor project involved the removal of volunteer Red cedar and Russian olive trees -- a proactive effort to reduce the spread of woody invaders and prevent them from quickly taking over the grassland riparian area. In the summer that followed, a large tour group visited the Otter Creek Ranch and were able to stand in 3 feet tall native grass along the stream banks to illustrate the value of riparian area management.
The combination of the grazing rotation and invasive tree removal along the stream helped restore good quality flows in the Class A waters of Otter Creek.
A wildfire occurred on part of the ranch late in the 2012 growing season. As a testimony to the ranch’s grassland management, those areas affected have not only stabilized with the help of moisture received, but are already producing tall grass vegetation, making a speedy recovery after the fire.
Bill Carhart is the Grasslands Stewardship Coordinator for the Twin Platte Natural Resources District.