Environmental Stewardship: Padlock Ranch named winner of 2013 Environmental Stewardship Award
Ranchester – On 500,000 acres spanning the Wyoming – Montana border, Padlock Ranch operates a sustainable and profitable cattle operation that works to continually develop their ranch.
“Successful ranches enable the community to continue to have vast amounts of open space that would otherwise be used for uses that would not enhance water and air quality, wildlife habitat and provide recreational opportunities to the public,” comments president and CEO of Padlock Ranch Wayne Fahsholtz. “When I came here 10 years ago, we really had the opportunity to look at our practices and decide what we needed to do to have as good a ranch as we could and to grow as much grass as possible.”
Padlock Ranch is owned by the Homer Scott family and has been operating since 1943. Scott and his wife Mildred started the operation on 3,000 acres purchased in Dayton, and continued to grow the property to its current size.
“We have a cow/calf operation, a feedlot and farm,” says Fahsholtz. “We operate in both Montana and Wyoming, splitting about half of our land in either state.”
Some of the calves are raised as natural beef. As a part of the Country Natural Beef Program, they adhere to animal welfare standards developed by Temple Grandin and are held to high standards of environmental stewardship.
They strive to develop maternal characteristics of their cowherd without compromising yield or grade, and the ranch utilizes composite breeding. They have also range calved their first calf heifers since 1996 to produce better mothers.
On the farm, Padlock Ranch irrigates 5,000 acres and produces dry hay, corn silage, hay silage and barley. Crop production supports winter feeding and supplies their feedlot.
Some years, hay is sold across the country and exported to China.
Use of precision agriculture techniques, including GPS driven equipment, enables both improved production and enhanced environmental quality.
“The biggest impact on the ranch has been our grazing management,” comments Fahsholtz. “We went from season-long grazing to a time-controlled grazing plan.”
The grazing plan was implemented when Fahsholtz arrived at Padlock Ranch in 2002.
“In 2002-03, we had some extremely dry years,” he explains. “We had to liquidate quite a few cows at the time, and we had the opportunity to really look at our practices to decide what we needed to do.”
As a result, they now rotate cattle through pastures, changing the time of year that they graze each pasture. Pastures are grazed rapidly during the growing season and later revisited as plants reach maturity.
“We are giving plants a good opportunity to grow as much as they can,” Fahsholtz notes. “It also helps us preserve moisture.”
The grazing strategy leaves litter on the soil surface, which contributes to higher soil moisture, reduction of soil temperature, and improved function of the hydrologic cycle, overall improving water quantity and quality.
“The biggest challenge for us is nature,” comments Fahsholtz, noting that fire and drought are particularly difficult. “Last year, we had a lot of fires and we lost 85,000 acres of grazing land. If we had not been grazing well, we would have had to sell a lot of cows right off the bat.”
However, as a result of their grazing practices, they were able to avoid catastrophic business losses and graze some pastures with leftover grass.
Aside from implementation of grazing management, Fahsholtz notes that they have also worked to improve wildlife habitat.
“We have done restoration work on the Tongue River,” he explains. “We pulled out a lot of old tires and cars that had been placed along the river banks, and we built rock structures that are more natural and provide better fish habitat.”
Padlock Ranch began river restoration efforts over four years ago.
They also operate in sage grouse core areas.
“By stockpiling our feed in the early summer for winter use in those areas, it gave the country a really good opportunity for sage grouse habitat,” he says.
As a result of their continued efforts to enhance wildlife, the University of Nebraska named Padlock Ranch as one of the Top 50 places in the Plains area for ecotourism.
The Audubon Society also named Padlock Ranch as an important bird area in 2005.
Educating the public
Aside from farming and ranching, Padlock Ranch also works with the community and with the public to continually educate people about agriculture.
“We have two or three youth programs that we are involved in,” Fahsholtz says. “Last year we had some young ladies learn to fish with the Joey’s Fly Fishing Foundation. We also work with Wyoming Game and Fish Department on youth hunts that they do.”
America’s Heartland and the Outdoor Channel have also filmed segments on the ranch to showcase various ranch activities.
Additionally, they host tours three to four times a year.
“We don’t solicit people to come and tour our place, but people call and ask to visit,” Fahsholtz explains. “We’ve had people from Australia and New Zealand last year, and we also had some of the leaders of the World Wildlife Foundation that heard about some of our practices and wanted to see how things worked.”
They also host numerous wildlife photographers and bird watchers each year.
He also notes that he is a strong supporter of the Environmental Stewardship Award because of the ability it has to continually educate the public.
“Consumers are more and more concerned about where their food comes from,” Fahsholtz says. “I didn’t apply for this award because I am concerned about the award. I applied for it because it is a way of getting the word to consumers.”
Fahsholtz says that the future will hold continual development for Padlock Ranch.
“Every year presents a different challenge as far as grazing and operating,” he explains. “We will continue to monitor our results and strive to improve.”
“It is really humbling for us to win the Environmental Stewardship Award,” Fahsholtz comments. “I’ve been on a lot of ranches, and I know how good a job many ranches do. We are just one of many. Hopefully we will be able to tell the story.”
Winning the Environmental Stewardship Award
The Wyoming Stock Growers Association Environmental Stewardship Award Program has continued to grow and has experienced some exciting changes in recent years. The program includes a tour of the winning operation, which takes place each summer and is co-sponsored by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
Winners of the program now receive the Leopold Conservation Award from Sand County Foundation, which includes a $10,000 check. Sand County Foundation works with program partners EnCana Oil and Gas and Peabody Energy to provide the award in Wyoming.
“The award recognizes a Wyoming landowner who has exhibited exemplary stewardship,” explains Wyoming Stock Growers Association Program Director Kosha Olsen, “and we are fortunate that there are a lot of landowners like this in Wyoming.”
The winner of Wyoming’s award is then nominated for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association National Environmental Stewardship Award Program.
“Currently, Wyoming and California are tied for the most national award winners,” adds Olsen. “The Padlock Ranch crosses state lines, and last year they won Montana’s stewardship award. Since both Wyoming and Montana will be nominating the Padlock Ranch at the national level, we are excited to partner with Montana to create one outstanding joint nomination.”