by Quenna Terry, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist
For third-generation farmer and rancher Steve Rader, diversity is the key to ranch sustainability. Rader Ranch, in the Panhandle region near Follett, is home to some 400 head of cattle in average rainfall years. It’s also home to abundant wildlife, including white tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, blue and bobwhite quail, and lesser prairie-chickens.
Rader manages the ranch for native rangeland, cropland with native grasses in the Conservation Reserve Program, and cropland with wheat. This diversity helped the both the ranch and its resident wildlife weather the intense drought of 2011-12.
Rader refers to his ranch as the “Refuge for Life,” a place he has always called home. It’s where he and his wife, Linda, raised their three children, Justin, Haley and Sarah, and a way of life and legacy his grandfather started in 1917.
Without diversity on the ranch, Rader contends, grasses are easily overgrazed, especially during periods of drought.
“Our land is so fragile and it takes a long time to recover,” he says. “Our cattle are spread out over a number of acres to let pastures rest. We’ve had to whittle down our cattle numbers to keep from overgrazing.”
Rader first learned the value of such sustainable management strategies from his dad, who believed in resting pastures. “We expect too much from our land,” Rader says. “Resting it helps.”
He recalls how, when he was young, his dad worked with USDA’s Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help manage the land better.
“NRCS has helped us for 50 years, and they’ve been a strong, reliable source for good advice,” Rader says. “NRCS has never led us in the wrong direction.”
Since he took over management of Rader Ranch in 1975, he has continued to work with NRCS to plan and implement conservation practices for livestock and wildlife. NRCS technical and financial assistance have helped him improve forage, install water facilities for better grazing distribution; and implement rotational grazing.
To further his conservation goals, Rader recently reached out to NRCS to request a Working Lands For Wildlife predictability plan, through which landowners voluntarily adopt conservation practices that benefit the lesser prairie-chicken. By doing so, they receive protection from “incidental take” of the lesser prairie-chicken caused by implementing the conservation plan.
“Wildlife is a part of our life,” Rader says. “My philosophy is: we have prairie- chickens on our land and we have to be good stewards of the land for any species.”
Correction: (11/24/15) Our original post of this article included reference to “invasive sand sage.” Sand sage is a natural and beneficial plant species in the Southern Great Plains. We will be creating a follow-up post to discuss the important role of brush species for the prairie community.