Rain Affects

Dear Friends,

In years like this, anyone driving through western South Dakota would think they landed in paradise.  This month (June), we received over ten inches of rain! With the average rainfall for our part of the country being eighteen inches a year, ten in one month is, well… remarkable. 

Equally remarkable is the shifting, moody sky. From orange sunrises, to impressive clouds, to black skies, to rainbows; its quintessential performance has been Oscar worthy.

Prairie Sunrise

The prairie grass is iridescent in the fluctuating light. It ebbs and flows like a sea when pushed by the prairie wind.

Prairie Wild Flowers

Wild flowers bob their heads, daubing the green - with white, yellow, purple and pink.

Prairie Wildflowers

And the water - the water is everywhere. The Cheyenne River is running high, and with a slight roar as it flows to the Missouri.

Stock dams, playas and any indentation in the earth are full after years of, “just enough” to get by. From the air these pools of water glisten like diamonds and if you didn’t know better, you would swear you were looking down at Minnesota.

This past fall, we did some work on our stock dams when they were about dried up. We dug them a little deeper and restructured the levees to improve upon their holding capacity. With this year’s snow run off and initial spring rains - they looked pretty good, but they were nowhere near full. One dam, that required the most repairs, is close to 30 feet deep at the center, and was bone dry until June.


Then a week ago, water came spilling through the overflow pipe as designed.  A day later, all hell broke loose as it came pouring over the top. We decided we should buy a boat.

Bison Herd

It’s also years like this when we wished we had two thousand more buffalo. The bounty of grass-filled-pastures awaits the buffalo like a just replenished salad bar in an empty restaurant.

To mimic part of the grazing process during these rain flush years, we will cut the grass for hay and save it for a non-rainy day (year). We cut in rows, leaving half of the grass in place to provide cover habitat for wildlife. And, we also leave many of the pastures, giving them rest and allowing the dry matter to settle into the earth, creating a healthy dose of organic matter to aid in the soil’s health.

Being a large landscape bison rancher, that manages the land for soil, grass, and overall eco-system health, that has an annual limited rainfall, and balancing that with your animal stocking capacity, is a little like walking a tight rope. Because we are not very good at that - we manage for drought.

Buffalo Herd Summer

Every rancher has been through a drought, and it’s during those years that you have to make a decision to either, buy food for the animals, move the animals, or ship them down the road to a feed yard/slaughter facility. The latter is never an option, and buying hay for 700 animals can get you broke fast. This is when we make the exception to our policy of not moving animals. We will either buy animals from a sourcing partner who is in a drought situation and our grass supply is in abundance, or we will sell animals to a sourcing partner if our pastures became too stressed, and our hay supply would run out. These animals will slowly integrate with the herd and be given a good life, and some may be harvested for food after they grow.

Drought years are not much fun and are hard on the people and the animals, but if managed right the land will always prevail.  

Photography is also a bit more challenging during these times, forcing one to look hard for the prairie magic. However, if you look long enough the dried cotton wood stumps reveal themselves as animals from the brown, barren landscape.So go’s the cycles of the prairie, we love the good and try to be prepared for the bad.

This year, things are good - and so are the people and the animals.

As always, we thank you for your sustainable great taste and support - through the good times and through the tough times. Cheers! jill

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  • Jill, a beautiful photo essay. And thank you for the ecological education about rain on the prairies!

    Beth Waterhouse
  • Being born and raised in Minnesota, I appreciated your comment:) Having spent many years near Payne’s Prairie National Park adjacent to Gainesville Florida in Alachua County, I though I’d mention in case you weren’t aware of it, that there’s a small heard of bison who roam the prairie and are rounded up once a year by the forest rangers on horseback. Just thought perhaps looking into management of free roam bison in an area of the country with an over abundance of rain and a variety of predators (gators, etc., and now pythons) may be of interest to you:)

    Kathleen Hall
  • Really illuminating to see the land under both drought and bounty conditions, thank you for continuing to take the time to educate about real-life ranching; always learn something from each post!

  • For a few minutes I was carried away to a beautiful place I’ve never seen. After reading your story and drinking in the photos, I closed my eyes and imagined the great and beautiful vistas. Thank you for the peaceful journey. I enjoyed every bit of it.

    Christina Gray
  • Thank you for taking your time to sharing your pictures. I really enjoyed them along with cations.

    Phyllis Welch
  • We will be in your area next month, can we stop by?

    Sheryl Edmonds
  • I love what you are doing for the prairie … I love your photos (Mother’s Day was great) and of course, I love your products

    James M. Pierce
  • Nice photos
    Looking forward to when
    More product is available
    How about some
    Big beef ribs
    Keep up the good work
    And God bless you and yours

  • Great article, Jill. Hope it’s ok if a steal a few pics for my watercolors! Having driven through SD, ND, MT and WY and having seen the green, green grasslands, it was a bit of a shock to remember the extreme drought we are in, and see the results of that driving south of Pueblo, CO on the way home. I spotted a rancher taking water out to his herd….something one never really wants to see. Glad the gods were good to you and the buffalo this year!

    Liz Aicher
  • You are true stewards of the land and your herd. And a damn fine writer to boot.

    George Frantz

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