Conservation focus – King Ranch receives Environmental Stewardship Award
Cheyenne – With stiff competition from around the state from ranches focused on conservation, this year, King Ranch of Cheyenne was selected as the 2014 Leopold Conservation Award winner.
King Ranch, owned by Mark Eisele and his family, has embraced their location bordering the growing city of Cheyenne and utilized it to positively represent agriculture in Wyoming.
Eisele operates the ranch with his wife Trudy, daughters Kendall Roberts and Kaycee Scadden and son Colton.
“We have a lot of things going on, and it is labor intensive,” Eisele explains. “The whole family loves the ranch and is a part of it.”
Eisele began working on King Ranch for Ann and Jerry King nearly 40 years ago as a teenager.
“I started buying into the ranch in the early 1990s and was a full partner by 1997,” he says. “Ann passed away in January 2011.”
After working for 10 years on an estate plan, the ranch seamlessly transferred to the Eiseles on Ann’s passing.
“Mrs. King made a real effort to bring me into the ranch,” Eisele comments. “The Kings made it possible for me, as a young producer, to buy into the ranch.”
During his years on the ranch, Eisele notes that conservation has been important for many reasons.
“The Kings were great stewards and would spend lots of time looking at the grass and the ranch,” he explains. “I owe most of my grassland education to them, and I have always been committed to what they started.”
Conservation on the operation has always been important because “we can’t starve a profit out of a cow,” Eisele says.
“During the drought, we were one of the few places that didn’t have to cut our cow numbers because we had grass,” he explains, adding that a well-managed operation is essential to surviving drought years.
Finally, Eisele was inspired to embrace a variety of conservation efforts after seeing other ranches through the Environmental Stewardship Award program.
“When I first became active in the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, I had the chance to see all kinds of great ranches and some wonderful examples of stewardship,” Eisele says. “We have emulated a lot of the practices that we have seen because they have worked so well.”
Strategies to improve
King Ranch has undertaken a variety of conservation strategies to continually improve their operation and maintain the viability of the ranch moving into the next generation.
“We’ve done a lot of little things,” Eisele says, mentioning cross fencing, weed management, monitoring, grazing management and others.
“Water is our single biggest challenge,” he comments. “We have great grass that is really well managed, but water is our challenge.”
Solar pumps and construction of water wells and pipelines has improved distribution of cattle across the landscape, and they have worked to make sure at least two water sources are present in each pasture.
The Eiseles have also installed rubber tire tanks and laid underground pipelines to improve water on the ranch.
Another improvement involves adapting submersible pumps on windmills to ensure several days of water availability, even if windmills aren’t turning.
King Ranch’s location has also provided interesting challenges for the operation.
“We are next to Cheyenne, which gives us development-type pressures,” Eisele explains. “We have subdivisions, a chemical plant and the city landfill has an inholding on us. Interstate 80 cuts our ranch literally in half.”
“We have to work with a number of different entities to make sure our operation is viable,” he continues.
At the same time, their location means that they are very visible to the public.
Eisele says, “We know the image we cast for the public is important and reflects on others in agriculture.”
“We have highways on the north and south and the interstate runs though the middle,” Eisele says. “We also have a highly visible Forest Service allotment.”
King Ranch runs cattle in the Pole Mountain Forest Service allotment, which is one of the most highly recreated allotments in the West.
Eisele says, “We have a tremendous amount of recreation on our allotment.”
“We have done some offsite water improvements on the Forest,” he mentions, adding that on their Forest Service allotment, cross fencing has allowed for improvements.
He further notes that after they were challenged on water quality in the allotment, they worked with the 11 other permittees, Laramie County Conservation District, the Laramie Rivers Conservation District, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Forest Service to save the permits.
“We worked with all of those entities to save those permits and keep 12 families and 12 operations in the forest,” Eisele says. “That has a long-term effect on these ranches and properties.”
King Ranch has also partnered with High Plains Grasslands Research Station in a wide variety of research efforts with their cattle herds.
“We have three separate herds that we manage,” Eisele explains. “My father and mother have a herd that is a minimum input, economical and profitable bunch of cows.”
The minimum input herd is the subject of research at the High Plains Grasslands Research Station west of Cheyenne.
Every year, a number of papers are published based on the data collected at the station, including herd dispersion, breeding data, research on grass quality and management and climate change, among other topics.
The second herd of cattle is the King Ranch legacy herd.
“This herd was started by the Kings, and they are our high-end cows,” Eisele explains. “They are a Charolais-Simmental cross, and they get the best of everything.”
He continues that the herd raises enormous calves but historically has not been the most profitable, so the family has actively taken steps to bring the cattle more in line with the rest on the ranch.
“Kendall is our herdsman, and she has been working to downsize the cattle,” Eisele comments. “They are all Red and Black Angus now, and in three to five years, they will be in line with the rest of our cows.”
The third herd, which Eisele identifies as their main herd, is a solid bunch of high elevation, rangeland cattle.
“We have good calving percentages, good breed-back and great weaning percentages,” he continues. “They are a really great batch of cows.”
Finally, a bunch of yearlings is also supplied to High Plains Grasslands Research Station each year for grazing studies, where intensity and grazing term are analyzed.
“There are 27 pastures that cattle in that study rotate through for short-term, medium-term and long-term grazing in light, medium and heavy stocking rates,” Eisele explains. “All the results are publically available.”
“We are impressed with the way Mark has met the challenges that come with having a ranch near a growing metropolis,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “The way he has been able to work with multiple parties to accommodate multiple uses that complements rather than hinders his ranching operation is very key.”
Eisele mentions, “We are humbled and honored to be among the people who have won the Environmental Stewardship Award in the past.”
“My predecessors were great, and Mrs. King was a true wildlife lover,” Mark Eisele of King Ranch comments. “They were great cattlemen, but Mrs. King also had a huge love for birds and wildlife.”
Ongoing work has taken place on the ranch to facilitate bird survival, including development of bluebird houses, flagging of duck nests and other efforts.
Happy Jack Wind Farm also sits in the midst of their cattle operation.
“A good piece of our ranch is a wind farm,” Eisele says. “The relationship with livestock and wildlife has been important.”
Almost no raptor kills were documented as a result of the wind farm, and Eisele says, “That is a big deal.”
“We also have a couple of endangered plants on the ranch,” says Eisele. “We have a long-term monitoring project with Fish and Wildlife Service, and we are proving that grazing and crop haying keep the Colorado Butterfly Plant alive and thriving.”
King Ranch also manages all the hunting on their property.
“We pretty much open our ranch up to the public, but I also hold back a piece of the ranch for youth and disabled hunters,” Eisele comments. “We also do some different things for bow hunters, and we have a couple of ponds that we stock with fish.”
The family has also worked with a group called Healing Waters, which allows veterans to come to the ranch to fish.
On top of their cattle, the Eisele family also raises hay.
“The ranch is at 6,500 feet, so cropping ability is limited by short summers and cool days,” Mark Eisele says. “Most of the time we can raise more than enough hay for the cows.”
They work with the city of Cheyenne in an arrangement to hay their ranch south of Interstate 80.
They have also converted from high-pressure to low-pressure pivots, Eisele says, which has resulted in electricity and water savings.
Look for more information about the Environmental Stewardship Tour to King Ranch in July.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.