The Center of the Nation Cattle Company, owned by Jeff and Kim Smeenk and their parents Steve and Kay Smeenk, stretches across 7,000 acres outside Newell, SD. The ranch’s legacy of stewardship goes back more than a century; serving as a continuous example that ranching and wildlife can go hand in hand.

Believing stewardship is “to build it up and make it better,” the Smeenks effectively manage grass to maintain their 250-head cowherd and create a habitat for wildlife. They use birds as an indicator of grassland health. In addition, they have promoted wildlife cohabitation with cattle by installing antelope crossings in their fence lines and ramps in water troughs so birds and smaller animals can easily escape.

With the intent of passing the ranch down to many more generations, the Smeenks have taken innovative steps to protect their natural resources by improving water quality, reducing soil erosion and controlling invasive wild plants. Additionally, to be proactive with their sometimes drought-prone pastures, they actively manage stocking rates and installed water pipeline and a storage tank to ensure cattle have water, regardless of moisture levels.

The Smeenk family also participates in education seminars and eagerly shares their stewardship knowledge with other ranching families.

Steve Fairbairn, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, says the Smeenks manage the range in a manner that allows them to maximize grass and beef production while protecting the natural environment at the same time – a win for both cattle and wildlife.