Stewardship AwardWritten by Jennifer Womack
Glendo’s Foy Ranch the 2009 honoree
Glendo – If one had to describe Rocky and Nancy Foy’s management of their ranch west of Glendo in two words “lifelong” and “learning” would be obvious choices.
Rocky can frequently be seen attending events that include an educational component. “I love looking at people’s operations, seeing how they do things and if it’s something we can make work here,” he comments. Whether it’s a tour of the wind farm under construction near Glenrock, a discussion about carbon sequestration or a visit to the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Rocky has a thirst for knowledge. He’s also mastered the art of taking that new knowledge home to the family ranch along Elkhorn Creek west of Glendo and seeing if he can put it to good use.
“Grandpa homesteaded out on North Elkhorn in 1910,” says Rocky. “They bought this part of the ranch later,” he says of he and Nancy’s present home along Elkhorn Creek where they run a cow-calf operation comprised of Black Angus cattle. Rocky’s parents, Leo and Ann, live just across the yard. Rocky and Nancy’s two youngest children – Paul and Emily – attend high school in Douglas.
The Foy’s willingness to learn and put quality management practices on the ground has earned them recognition as the 2009 Environmental Stewardship Award winners by the Wyoming Stock Growers. They’ll also receive the 2009 Leopold Conservation Award from the Sand County Foundation and $10,000 in prize money thanks to the support of EnCana Oil and Gas. Summer 2009 the ranch will host the annual stewardship tour allowing fellow ranchers and the general public to learn about their management techniques first hand.
“I went to a school in 1991,” recalls Rocky. “Stan Parsons had a school, at that time it was called rotational or cell grazing.” After seven days of intense learning Rocky says he felt like it was something that would work at their operation. “I was very impressed with what they taught us there. I came home and went to the NRCS and we started a plan to cost share on some electric fence. That first year we cross-fenced three pastures.”
It was the beginning of a partnership that Rocky says has resulted in a continuous learning process and ever-improving stewardship. “We started our rotation and tried to figure out how to do it,” he recalls. “The first couple of years it was a fiasco. The cows didn’t know what they were doing and we didn’t know what we were doing. We stayed with it and after a couple of years the cows learned what was going on.”
Change came incrementally and was depicted in the ranch’s monitoring trends. “If we hadn’t had the monitoring we wouldn’t have noticed the difference,” says Rocky of the slow progression made over the years. “The transects are very different now from when we started,” he says of their monitoring efforts launched with the help of the NRCS and dating back to the early 1990s.
After three or four years Rocky says they added more cross fences resulting in around a dozen pastures that are now included in the grazing rotation. “We’re just mimicking what the buffalo did years ago,” says Rocky. “They went into an area, grazed it and had to move. It’s really improved our grass, the creekbanks and the riparian areas. It’s helped our carrying capacity as well.”
Water development, he recalls, was key in making the system work well. “We’ve got three creeks. I think we had two windmills and the rest of the water was springs and dams.” As the drought set in Rocky says their dams started drying up, followed by the springs and then the creeks. “Luckily we had started on the well project before the creeks dried up,” he recalls.
“They’re all solar,” he says of the water wells developed. “When we first started the rotational grazing, I think the most important thing was water.” Plentiful water, says Rocky, has also changed the cows’ watering habits. Instead of traveling to water as a group they now go in smaller bunches or individually. “We’ve got about eight wells and are working on a ninth one,” he says. “We’ve put a solar pump on each well. Some wells service two tanks.” Sometimes the tanks are in separate pastures and sometimes are in the same.
“Five years ago we got meat goats to help with the weed problem,” says Nancy of the Boer goats that called the Foy Ranch home until this past spring.
“It took a few years before we started noticing any difference,” says Rocky. “About the third year we noticed the brush was shrinking. It was still there, but it wasn’t nearly as tall or as dense.” Rocky says the thinning allowed the grass to get started where the brush canopy was previously too thick.
Penning the goats within a mesh electric fence the Foys were able to concentrate their effects on the thickest sagebrush patches. This past winter they scattered falcata alfalfa seed where the goats were grazing, but say it’s too soon to see if their efforts panned out.
“I think they helped quite a bit,” says Rocky. “It was during the height of the drought and we were just destocking our cows because there was less and less feed all the time. We could see where the goats would eat weeds and brush. We have weeds from pipelines going through. We got the goats to keep our stocking rate up.” The Foys say once they found a buyer the goats they raised weren’t difficult to market.
While the Foys say they still have work the goats could be doing the gentlemen from Peru who herded them had to return home. “He was here on an H2A Visa and they can only stay for three years,” says Rocky. The first year the Foys had the goats Nancy herded them, but has since opened a restaurant at the local convenient store in Glendo.
“We couldn’t handle them,” says Rocky. “They’re pretty labor intensive, just keeping track of them.”
“I think we’d get them back,” says Nancy of their possible future return. “There’s still stuff they could do.”
While the Foys feel they’ve come a long way the last 15 years, goals to improve the ranch remain a part of their future. “I think there are more birds,” says Rocky of the implemented changes. “There are deer because of the creeks and there are a lot of antelope. We’re now getting elk.” He wonders if pheasant hunters would visit their ranch if they implemented a program to accommodate the sportsmen. “We’re always looking for ways to diversify.”
“We’re looking real serious at trying to get away from putting up hay and feeding hay,” he says of the hay meadows that are irrigated with big gun sprinklers from the nearby creek when water levels allow. Not yet ready to sell the swather Rocky says this next summer they’ll put a portion of the hayfields into their grazing rotation shortly after haying instead of waiting until fall. With AUM numbers in place, he says they’re ready to make a comparison. “It gets so tall and rank that when we come in during the fall they tromp as much as they eat,” he says. “Our thought is that if we can keep it shorter, greener and growing we can get more good out of it.” If it works, the Foys may reduce the number of acres on which they harvest hay.
With an NRCS approved grazing plan in place the Foys are also among those looking to sell the carbon they sequester on their ranch. “We haven’t got a check yet,” says Rocky, but notes the information has been submitted with an expectation the credits will trade sometime in 2009. “If you have a grazing plan and your legal description,” he says to those considering participating in the effort, “you’re good to go.”
“I think it’s really neat,” says Rocky of winning the stewardship award. “We appreciate it a lot. We’ve spent quite a little time trying to improve stuff and I guess we are finally getting there.” The Foys express their appreciation to the local NRCS office and the Southeast Wyoming Resource Conservation and Development Council for nominating them. “Along the way,” says Rocky, “we’ve been surrounded by so many good people and we’ve learned so much from them.”