The U.S. is home to some of the most beautiful land in the world along with beef farmers and ranchers who have spent decades dedicating their work to preserving it. Because of their dedication, the U.S. produces the most sustainable beef in the world.
In honor of Earth Day, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is sharing the stories of three ranchers who represent the thousands of cattle producers across the country who implement sustainable practices every day.
Jim Strickland — Florida
The cattle business comes as second nature for sixth-generation rancher Jim Strickland. As owner of Strickland Ranch and managing partner of Blackbeard’s Ranch in Manatee County, Florida, he’s dedicated his life’s work to conserving the land, waterways, and surrounding habitat of the Myakka River Valley. In 2019 Blackbeard’s Ranch was recognized with the national Environmental Stewardship Award for that work.
With thousands of new residents moving to the area every day, Strickland saw the opportunity to educate newcomers on the importance of ranch lands. Not only that, but he also led the effort to designate one-third of Blackbeard’s Ranch into a permanent conservation easement, making it so that land stays untouched by development and continues to restore and protect native waterways.
In addition to preserving open space and natural resources, Strickland utilizes wind and solar energy to provide cattle with clean water and execute an effective rotational grazing plan. Strickland has also initiated mini damns across thousands of acres and miles of creeks to hydrate and store more water on the ranch, helping the water quality before it reaches the oceans surrounding Florida.
As if it weren’t already clear that Earth Day is near and dear to Strickland’s heart, it’s also his birthday.
Jake Feddes — Montana
Picturesque views and a hub for tourism are a few words you could use to describe the north end of Yellowstone National Park, but to cattle rancher Jake Feddes it’s home. Feddes is a third-generation cattle rancher who, along with his father, runs Feddes Red Angus in the Gallatin Valley. In addition to selling high-quality beef, the Feddes family is known for their efforts to promote healthy soil. For example, they develop and follow a grazing plan to ensure cattle are constantly grazing on and fertilizing different areas of the land. Through this dedication to grazing and land management their cattle actually help improve overall soil health.
Like most of the west, water is a precious commodity at Feddes Red Angus. That’s why Feddes and his family grow cover crops to help retain moisture in the soil and prevent erosion. When they’re not growing hay, they’re growing other perennial forage plants that cattle can graze on. Not only does this help with moisture, it helps to preserve the area’s natural landscape.
Tourists that visit the Gallatin Valley come to appreciate the outdoors and mountain views but leave knowing a little more about how proper conservation practices keep it looking beautiful and serving a greater purpose.
Dean Fish — Arizona
While water may be scarce in the deserts of Southern Arizona, conservation efforts are flourishing thanks to cattle rancher Dean Fish. As Ranch Manager for the Santa Fe Ranch Foundation in Nogales, Fish isn’t a stranger to finding innovative ways to discover, retain and distribute clean water effectively and sustainably.
Being sustainable runs in the family as Fish’s father, Ron Fish, was first to implement the changes to the ranch’s concrete open ditch irrigation system. In its place, Fish’s father installed an underground pipe with valves designed to direct water exactly where it needs to go more effectively and with less evaporation or leakage.
The ranch also utilizes windmills and solar pumps to provide water, not just for livestock, but to additional wildlife species in the area.
Thanks to the sustainable and innovative practices, a once desolate piece of land is now home to a successful cattle ranch. And Fish is not alone as he has educated hundreds of other ranchers on conservation practices to help them be successful in raising cattle and caring for natural resources.
While these three ranchers live in different areas of the country with very different resources and challenges, they share a common goal of producing high-quality protein and conserving their local environments.
“I enjoy the opportunity to educate others coming into the area on what land conservation in Florida looks like,” said Jim Strickland. “It’s important to make the connection of how cattle ranching protects our wildlife. There’s a lot to look out for and we’re improving every day.”
“When you’re sitting back watching television shows based in Montana and think ‘Wow, it’s so beautiful’ most of what you see is someone’s private farm or ranch,” said Jake Feddes. “We’ve gotten more efficient and have been able to raise more cattle on the same amount of land as we did decades ago, and the scenery here tells part of that story.”
“It’s all about preserving the wildlife and natural resources,” said Dean Fish. “Here in southeast Arizona, it’s too hot to farm fruits or vegetables on this land so a sustainable cow-calf operation is a great way to use the landscape.”