By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
More than 130 people from throughout Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and even Louisiana converged on Chase County last week for this year’s summer grazing land tour.
The event is sponsored annually by the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition in cooperation with the Nebraska Cattlemen.
The tour focused on the range management philosophies of three ranches—Maddux Cattle Company, Wine Glass Ranch and Kuenning & Son, LLC.
The tour also included a stop at Imperial Beef.
At the Maddux ranch, the tour saw how a cover crop of rye and a rye mix was used under a pivot to provide for spring grazing.
They also implemented a winter grazing program in an effort to control annual invasive grasses and to get cows trained to eat Yucca.
The ranch has the benefits of wet meadows which provide quality areas for calving and for forage production.
The group also learned about Maddux’s work to develop a composite beef herd by implementing traits from various breeding lines.
At the Wine Glass Ranch, Jeff Pribbeno explained their wagon wheel fencing system in their pastures, that includes a central pasture and watering as part of their rotational grazing system.
Pribbeno explained they keep their cattle on the pastures for 11 months of the year. This is part of an effort to develop cows that are self-sufficient without supplemental feeding, with the exception of some distillers grain.
Jerry Kuenning explained they don’t use as much cross fencing as the other two ranches but noted they still rotate through their pastures.
Dealing with drought
During a roundtable following the tour featuring John Maddux, Pribbeno, Kuenning and Imperial Beef manager Brad Foote, all said the recent drought conditions have made it tough on cattlemen.
The local ranchers said they all faced challenges holding their cow herd together during the drought.
Maddux and Kuenning said they relied on early weaning and getting calves out on grass earlier.
In the early 2000s, they weaned from 50-75 days but that wasn’t a hard decision because they could feed the calves with $2 corn. That changed when corn skyrocketed to more than $7 per bushel.
Kuenning said they weaned around 90 days in 2012. In 2013, he said they were determined to keep their cattle herd together, even if it meant buying hay to do so.
Fortunately, they got some rain last year but said the early weaning was still hard on the calves.
By weaning early, he said the cows became more relaxed since they knew they didn’t have to eat so hard to keep their milk supply up.
Those measures helped get them through the drought over the last two years.
Fortunately, the region has gotten some good moisture in the last 30 days, bringing on the grasses on rangeland.
Two weeks before the tour, Kuenning said he was nervous about driving out to the pasture tour site for fear of starting a fire due to dry conditions. Recent rains alleviated that fear as tour members were greeted to thriving, green pastures.
All four of the panelists said this is a unique time for the beef industry.
As a grower, they have never seen prices higher, with fat cattle selling for $1.50 per lb. and cow-calf pairs at their highest numbers ever.
Some of this has been prompted by the decline in cattle numbers nationwide due to drought conditions throughout the country, along with foreign demand for beef.
Despite the good times, the ranchers all cautioned that expanding cattle herds at this time may not be the best decision.
Maddux noted the industry has seen a huge run-up in prices and said the best decision may be to hold on to capital now.
Foote said cattle feeders are seeing prices never seen before. He said the feeding industry has been taking huge hits over the last two years so this price run has been most welcomed.
“It’s finally fun to be a feeder again,” he noted.
NGLC promotes management
Ron Bolze of Chadron serves as the coordinator of the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition (NGLC).
He said a big share of the organization’s funding comes from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
This enables the organization to promote rangeland stewardship, noting that anyone who owns grazing land is automatically a member of the coalition.
NGLC offers a mentoring program, called Cowboy Logic Stewardship Network, to help young ranchers with their rangeland management practices. The program includes more than 40 mentors available to assist.
In addition, NGLC offers a rangeland monitoring program and free kit to help evaluate progress of range management objectives.
For more information on NGLC, people can contact him by calling 402-321-0067, or e-mail,