A devotion to practices that conserve land, water and energy and promote habitat for wildlife and a harmony between man and nature. That's what distinguishes winners of the 12th annual National Cattlemen's Beef Association's (NCBA) Environmental Stewardship Awards.

Each year in seven regions of the country, this award program recognizes cattle producers whose stewardship practices are inventive, cost-effective and contribute to environmental conservation.

A committee of representatives from university faculty, federal and state government agencies, and conservation and environmental organizations select the recipients of these awards. The program is sponsored by Dow AgroSciences.

At the 2003 Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville, TN, Jan. 29-Feb. 1, the beef industry will honor all seven regional winners, and NCBA will announce a national winner.

Region 1
Armstrong Farms
Saxonburg, PA

Improving the total ecosystem is the goal at Armstrong Farms, a centennial farm established in 1816 in Saxonburg, PA.

Once devoted to row crop production, the farm has been in the same family for six generations. Today, owners John and Kathy Allen run a cow-calf operation of purebred Black Angus and purebred Shorthorn cattle.

The farm has been redeveloped for production of quality grass and legumes. That forage base supports nearly 400 mother cows rotationally grazed for maximum efficiency.

Because preserving and enhancing the farm's wildlife habitat are very important, the Allens have participated in efforts to reintroduce the native barn owl. They've also created and fenced off a wetland area to support waterfowl nesting and migrations.

The farm also is participating in a research study to monitor wind velocity and determine whether windmills could be used there to generate, collect and store electricity. The system would use the electricity to pump fresh water from already developed springs to the cattle, and some electricity might be sold back to local electric suppliers.

Providing hunting and fishing leases, harvesting timber and operating a bed and breakfast bring in additional income for Armstrong Farms.

Region 2
Wakefield Farm
Hartwell, GA

The folks at Wakefield Farm, Hartwell, GA, aim to bring nature and man back into balance, says Asa Phillips. He and wife Julie established the 1,400-acre farm in the early 1980s.

Primarily used as a commercial cow-calf operation today, the land was once heavily used in row-crop production, losing an estimated 22 tons/acre of topsoil/year. The Phillips family has since reduced soil loss to less than one ton/acre by using conventional and no-till crop sequencing for forage production.

Achieving balance also has required fine-tuning the water quality, wildlife habitat, watersheds and other areas. They began fencing out streams and ponds about 10 years ago, and they have drilled nine wells to supply water for 30 concrete watering troughs.

Wakefield Farm worked with the Georgia Forestry Commission to develop a 10-year stewardship management plan, which includes conservation, wildlife and timber. And the farm participates in many research and educational programs through the University of Georgia, which is 45 miles away.

Region 3
Brad Z Ranch
Guthrie Center, IA

Being more efficient in using roughage to produce high-quality protein is a continuing goal at Brad Z Ranch, says Jim Bradford. He and wife Mary own the 1,000-acre ranch in Guthrie Center, IA, and say they have a responsibility to teach others how grass saves soil and how ruminant animals are vital to the ecosystem.

The Bradfords run a 400-head purebred Angus and 100-head purebred Gelbvieh operation, as well as a feedlot. They lease 600 acres of pasture and cornstalks for winter grazing.

To allow for rotational grazing, the ranch is divided into paddocks. Solar electric fences secure most of the ranch's ponds and streams from livestock traffic.

The Bradfords developed water systems to keep cattle away from fragile areas. And a windmill helps decrease the need for electricity to pump fresh water to cattle.

Brad Z Ranch is home to turkey, Canadian geese, pheasants and hundreds of whitetail deer, which feed on pastures and stored hay.

Region 4
Goodson Ranch
Blackwell, OK

Established during the first Oklahoma land run in 1893, the Goodson Ranch in Blackwell, OK, encompasses 2,600 acres of farmland and 3,700 acres of pastures overlooking the Arkansas River and Kaw Lake. Owned by Larry and Tom Goodson Cannon, the ranch includes a cow-calf and stocker operation as well as hay and grain production.

The Cannons have reduced their 400-head cowherd to 60 brood cows. This enabled them to convert to a rotational stocker program. Proper management of the program has increased biodiversity and improved production.

To minimize erosion and maximize surface water for cattle, the Cannons constructed 28 ponds, which also provide additional habitat for wildlife.

The ranch has implemented 100% no-till practices and regularly rotates among wheat, grain sorghum, soybean and corn crops. These practices have increased biodiversity, soil structure, yield averages and wildlife populations.

With primary grasses like native big and little bluestem, Indiangrass and Switchgrass, the ranch has worked extensively with the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve of the Nature Conservancy, as well as many other organizations, to learn and establish conservation and stewardship practices.

Region 5
Sieben Live Stock Co.
Montana's Big Belt Mountains

Located on the north slope of north central Montana's Big Belt Mountains, Sieben Live Stock Co. plays an active role in forest improvement. The Hibbard family, which owns and operates the ranch, selectively harvests timber as needed to reduce fuels for wildfires.

Established in 1907, the fourth-generation ranch derives income from cow-calf and sheep operations. It maintains a 1,900-head cowherd and 300 to 400 head of stocker cattle. Farming on a 10-year alfalfa/small grain rotation provides winter feed.

Rest rotation grazing has allowed for improved plant vigor, filled bare ground with plants, encouraged native grass species, prevented soil erosion and improved watershed. Cross fencing pastures into a deferred rotation system has reduced the impact of spring transitional pasture.

The Hibbards guide a few big game hunts and allow public hunting. Some oil and gas exploration has been done on the ranch. The family is also negotiating to install wind power turbines for income diversification.

Elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, antelope, coyotes, bear, fox, badgers and mountain lion are found and managed on the ranch.

Region 6
Y Bar D Ranch
Arizona's Prescott National Forest

When George and Sharon Yard established Y Bar D Ranch in 1991, the grassland and riparian wetland was run down.

“We made it our goal to bring this land back to a productive and environmentally sound state and to use cattle as a tool in doing so,” George says.

Mostly sustained on federal land in Arizona's Prescott National Forest, the ranch includes a 225-head, cow-calf operation and a small, privately owned farm operation.

Nine years ago, the Yards voluntarily removed livestock from riparian pastures and developed other management strategies for upland range sites.

To bring the ranch back to a productive state, the Yards implemented pasture rotation and constructed cross fences to take advantage of a rotational grazing system. They also cleaned sediment-filled water tanks to increase water facilities, and they installed a water well and pipeline to provide fresh water to additional areas. With no natural water supply for several miles, these facilities provide water for the deer and antelope herds that live on the ranch.

Region 7
Kelly Ranch
Nebraska Sandhills

Partnering with others has enabled the Kelly Ranch to achieve its production and environmental goals.

Located on more than 20,000 acres near the southern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills, the cow-calf and stocker operation has been in the family since 1885. Michael Kelly, who owns the enterprise with wife Cynthia, is the third generation to ranch the land.

The Kellys have enhanced the ranch with seven miles of cross fencing, 11 livestock water wells, more than 7,500 feet of livestock water pipeline, 12 new windmills and 19 new livestock water tanks. Some of these improvements have been funded through cost-sharing programs with the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.

For livestock and wildlife windbreaks, the Kellys have planted more than 11,000 trees. And a rotational grazing system has increased available forages for livestock and increased wildlife on the ranch, too.