at Rose Ranch
Achieving financial success with adaptive grazing management: a young rancher's approach
Rose Ranch, Eagle Butte, South Dakota
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation
Since late 2018, Thad Rose has owned and operated Rose Ranch, a 125-cow operation focused on making the most of 3,000 acres of native grass pasture on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in central South Dakota.
Committed to sustainable land management, Thad recognized early on the importance of balancing adaptive grazing approaches that improve soil fertility and support wildlife habitat with the need to operate profitably.
About Rose Ranch
Owner: Thad Rose
Years of experience: 5
~125 spring-calving cows.
Grazing 3,000 acres.
Weaned calves sold via local auction market. Select heifer calves retained for replacement.
Forages: Managed grazing on six native grass pastures averaging 500 acres each, plus purchased hay.
Adaptive grazing system approaches: Managed grazing, bale grazing, low stocking rate, livestock-sensitive cross fencing, soil sampling and forage sampling.
Conservation goals: Operate sustainably while improving the land.
“To me, regenerative agriculture is following practices that add back to the land and improve it"
Rose Ranch, South Dakota
New practices, new challenges, and new solutions
From the outset, Thad invested in a low-intensity grazing system to support soil and pasture health. The intention is for the low stocking rate Rose Ranch implements to maintain enough forage to weather drought conditions. Thad also uses adaptive management to adjust the timing of moving cattle based on weather and forage availability.
In 2020, Thad implemented bale grazing, which involves strategically placing bales in specific locations across pastures in the winter months. The goal is to return organic matter to the land to enhance soil fertility and help manage the cowherd over the winter.
By rotating bale grazing areas annually, Rose Ranch maximizes the distribution of organic matter, leading to increased land productivity. "We are seeing more soil organic matter and better soil moisture where bale grazing has been practiced," Thad observed.
Investment support and low stocking rates support profitability
A significant obstacle to implementing conservation practices, such as managed grazing and bale grazing, is associated cost and financial risks, especially before reaching a profitable scale. Rose Ranch successfully addressed this issue through participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The CSP contract provided critical funding support, enabling Thad to invest in infrastructure and innovative practices while improving cash flow and maintaining low expenses. This support played an important role in improving the ranch's financial health and reducing financial risk.
Despite the initial financial challenges producers face in implementing conservation practices, Rose Ranch has succeeded in implementing them profitably. Thad’s low stocking rate1 and adaptive management approach have contributed to strong calf weight gain and low feed expenses, resulting in high financial performance. The ranch has outperformed similar operations in the region across gross margins, net returns and other financial metrics (Figures 1,2).
2. Producers participating in the project are working with Farm Business Management instructors on financial recordkeeping, benchmarking and analysis. The financial figures in this case study come from an analysis of Rose Ranch’s enterprise and whole farm financial analysis. Rose Ranch’s enterprise and whole farm financial metrics were compared to two benchmarks of similar Minnesota ranches in the FINBIN database: 1) Beef producers who have 75% of revenue from beef enterprises and farm less than 100 acres. 2) Farms in the database with less than $500,000 of gross income. Both groups were selected to compare specific enterprise data and operation scope compared to similar groups compared to the entire dataset.
Just getting started
Thad is one of 13 ranchers participating in a three-year project that began in 2022 led by Environmental Defense Fund and the Intertribal Agriculture Council. Through multi-year data collection, these organizations are assessing the financial impact of implementing conservation practices on grazing operations in Montana, Nebraska, Nevada and South Dakota.
Amidst ample evidence supporting regenerative agriculture's environmental benefits, it's crucial for ranchers, lenders and other industry stakeholders to recognize the practices' full value and their impact on ranch profitability.
The project’s ultimate objective is to identify financing solutions that can help Native ranchers improve their natural resource stewardship, all while improving the financial success of their operations.
Initial observations from Rose Ranch
Rose Ranch has a sustainable grazing management plan, both environmentally and financially. Here are some of the initial observations from the first year of the project:
Rose Ranch’s low grazing intensity and adaptive management supports strong cattle weight gain, ensures plant species are not being overgrazed and provides vegetation structure that supports wildlife habitat.
The impact of financing on conservation
It is important to recognize that Rose Ranch has transitioned to a profitable scale with the help of a CSP contract, which allowed the operation to invest in infrastructure and innovative practices to improve cash flow and keep expenses low. Without the CSP contract, a traditional lender would need to take on some risk and provide flexible financing to help the ranch scale. One lender we talked to said that patient long-term capital can help producers like Rose Ranch invest in the land to financially succeed across the ups and downs of weather and market conditions.
The Rose Ranch case study highlights the importance of financial support in implementing conservation practices. Flexible financing options from lenders can help producers like Thad Rose operationalize and scale up these practices, allowing them to simultaneously improve their financial health and achieve sustainable land management in the long-term.
Learn how IAC and Environmental Defense Fund are collaborating to learn about the impact of regenerative agriculture on Native land.
REGENERATIVE AG ON NATIVE LAND
Find out what Native farmers and ranchers, as well as IAC staff, think about using regenerative agriculture practices.