Ranchers Use Bison to Regenerate Colorado Soil

Ranchers say it’s no coincidence that the health of Colorado’s prairies has declined with the loss of bison herds.

STRASBURG, Colorado – There were once more than 50 million bison roaming the Great Plains of America at the end of the 18th century. Those numbers are only a fraction of what they are today, and it may not be a coincidence that the health of the prairies has also declined along with the decline of animals.

A Colorado ranch tries to regenerate the soil by rekindling the relationship between grass and grazer.

“Being here in the shortgrass prairie, watching bison graze,” said breeder Bobby Gill. “It just resonates somewhere in your DNA where your body is like yes it’s true, that’s how it was.”

Gill helps manage a 7,500 acre bison ranch near Strasbourg.

But he is not only a breeder, he is also a researcher. And the West Bijou Ranch land is a science project run by the Colorado-based Savory Institute.

“What we’re doing here on this ranch shows that regeneration of the prairies is possible,” said Gill. “That it is possible to have grazing herbivores, livestock, pasture in a way that improves the health of the land.”

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Gill said the ranch bison don’t just walk on the ground; they are part of the soil.

For example, dirt is dusty and dry in this time of severe drought, but he said that the water needed for grass to grow and rot can be found in the bellies of beasts.

“They only place above the ground here the moisture available all year round in this fourth stomach, the rumen of the cattle,” said Gill.

He said the special stomachs of grazing animals like bison have the ability to regenerate soil health. What is good for the bison that comes in is good for the soil that comes out.

“Ultimately what we want is for that lump of manure to be broken down and back into the soil,” Gill said as he broke up a dry clump of buffalo manure. “When it’s dry like that, it tells me they don’t decompose completely. That maybe there isn’t as much microbial activity here as there should be. “

Gill is also director of development and communications for the Savory Institute. He said he’s seen some soil regeneration over the four years they’ve run West Bijou Ranch, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

He said it’s not only bison bellies that can help the soil regain its health, but they’re also using their feet. The thunderous hooves of a few hundred bison can work to plow the soil.

“Bare soil can recoat after a while. It can get rock hard, ”said Gill. “After the herd has trampled on it, the rainwater is then able to penetrate the topsoil, which means less water runs off or evaporates after collecting on the surface. “

Gill said the right balance between grazing and growing will regenerate this soil. Ranchers have practiced moving cattle from pasture to pasture for years, but he said the method they use at West Bijou Ranch is more calculated.

He said they know exactly how much grass is available, exactly how much the bison needs to eat and how long it will take to eat it, and they know exactly how long it will take for the grass to grow back and recover. after the passage of a herd.

“The way many farmers and ranchers manage their animals now doesn’t necessarily have the same effect on the land as the way herbivores and grazing meadows have co-evolved with each other,” said Gill.

He said the balance between grass and grazers was once managed by mother nature. Predators like the gray wolf used to keep herds moving at the right pace.

“So now we come in as humans and we basically take the place of predators,” said Gill. pasture to another.

But he said grazing is only a small part of what he calls holistic management that was developed by the Savory Institute. He said it also includes ecological, economic and social perspectives.

And this method of soil regeneration might not just be a trend, Gill said it’s a permanent fix.

“It’s not just something going on in this little microcosm here,” he said. “It’s this big, huge, massive movement of land managers who see there is a better way to do things.”

While not everyone has thousands of acres of grassland to regenerate in our backyards, Gill said the best way for people to support regenerative agriculture is to seek out the official “From the Land” emblem. land to market ”when making decisions about which commodities to buy.

“Savory wants to support farmers and ranchers who are making an effort to regenerate the soil on their land,” said Gill. “When you see the Land to Mark seal on a product, you can be sure that the product is from regenerative agriculture. “

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