Ranney Ranch: An Eco-Friendly Southwestern Cattle Ranch



Cattle ranches in the West often get a bad reputation. Overgrazing has decimated the environment in places like my former home state, Colorado. I remember many times during my years of hunting and fishing in Colorado, walking through a cow pie studded landscapes where the grass was almost gone. Sagebrush and cactus could barely gain a foothold so denuded were some of the places I hiked. For most of the last three decades, I thought our public lands and private ranches were nothing more than over-used cow feeding land. That is until I met Nancy Ranney in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was at the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association annual conference I heard Nancy speak on a culinary panel discussion when I realized there was hope.

Nancy is a Harvard graduate with a masters degree in Landscape Architecture who took over the family ranch near Corona, New Mexico. The 1990s were a drought-ridden era of misery inflicted upon the land, animals, and humans who inhabited the Southwest. Nancy knew there was a new and better way to manage her family's 18,000-acre ranch and instigated herd rotation and regenerative soil management practices to bring back the native grasses. The ranch's pasture was a monoculture of blue gramma grass when Nancy took over in the early 2000s. The herd had been reduced to try and get through an extreme drought, and the ranch's future was looking shaky.

The plan was to keep the cows moving, instead of being allowed to graze in place for days, and start restoring native grasses. The ranch's ecosystem was in shambles, and birds, as well as other species, were disappearing at an alarming rate. The health of the soil was suffering, and Nancy knew it was vital to the quality of the herd to bring the soil back to health. To do so, it would take restoring the landscape to an intact ecosystem of microbes, grass, and other high-prairie plants that would feed the life forms that make up a healthy landscape.

I asked Nancy what she had in mind when she started turning the ranch around and she told me, "The key was to keep the herd moving across the landscape, never grazing long enough in any one place to damage the plants and now allowing seeds dormant in the soil — viable for over 100 years in the Southwest — to grow." Once the native grasses started to come back, so did most of the life forms that rely on the ecosystem.

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