Women in Conservation Ranching

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re introducing you to the incredible Women in Ranching enrolled in Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Initiative in a weekly content series. We asked questions, and they responded with fun, insightful, and birdy answers. We’ll share a new Q&A from a different region and group of women ranchers each week! 

 

Women in Audubon Conservation Ranching: Oklahoma and Texas

 

Rancher Name: Debbie Davis

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: Bandera Grassland

Location: Tarpley, Texas

 

What is your favorite bird and why?

 

Instead of answering my favorite, as there are many I love for different reasons, I will answer with the bird I best identify with this property. That is the Vermilion Flycatcher. The brilliant red of the males, in combination with their ability to hover like a butterfly, amaze visitors to this property that have never seen this beautiful bird that is quite common here.

 

What do you wish more people knew about conservation on your ranch?

 

Mechanical removal of invasive juniper brush on our property increases moisture infiltration of the soil.  This property is in the fragile Balcones Escarpment that recharges the Edwards Aquifer. Controlling invasive woody species secures the future availability of water for human communities while enhancing quality of grazing lands for livestock and wildlife, including birds and pollinators.

 

If you could enjoy a meal with any woman, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

 

Gosh, it’s a tough decision between Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall. Jane for her compassion for animals and Rachel for her fearless exposure of the chemical industry. Regardless, both for their love and defense of the natural world.

 

Where is the worst smelling place you’ve been?

 

That’s yet a second toss-up. The walking tunnel under the road at the Laredo/Nuevo Laredo border back in the 1980’s was pretty unbearable. It smelled of a combination of urine, vomit, rotting crickets, and gray sewer water all masked with the nauseating fragrance of Pine-Sol. Perhaps worse was the time I cut the heads off two dead whitetail bucks that had gotten hooked up while fighting and fell off a cliff into a shallow pool of water. At least one died on impact. It was hard to determine if the second also broke his neck or if he suffered a terrible death from starvation. By the time I discovered them, the maggots had gone to work on them. There were so many thousands, the green, slimy water moved as waves. With a scarf over my face, I gagged between held breaths while my pocketknife did its work. The entangled antlers made an interesting conversation piece for 10 years until they were lost in a housefire in 2007.

 

Support Bandera Grassland

 

Debbie offers delivery in the Austin and San Antonio area, including all points in between. Click here to place your order.

 

 


 

 

Rancher Name: Rhona Lemke

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: McCollum-Lemke Ranches 

Location: Mason, Texas

 

What is your favorite bird and why?

 

My favorite bird is the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. They are not only beautiful with their metallic green top and ruby red throat (at least for the males), they are extremely agile and territorial during breeding season. It is amazing something so small can be so aggressive.

 

What’s been your biggest work-related conservation success?

 

After practicing Holistic Management for many years, we decided to partner with the Savory Institute and become the Texas Savory Hub. The Grassfed Sustainability Group began in 2015. We now are part of the Ecological Outcome Verification program, and I am the Hub Verifier for Texas. Our home ranch was one of the first land bases in the world to receive the Ecological Outcome Verification designation from the Savory Institute. That work allowed us to have the ecological data to be included in the Audubon bird-friendly management program. The initial bird survey was a very rewarding learning experience. We found all the key species for our ecoregion on our property.

 

Any advice for women looking to pursue a career in ranching?

 

My advice for women looking to pursue a ranching career is, be prepared for the “mountain tops and valleys”. There are some days so great you can’t wait tell someone about it and other days you just want to cry. A passion for hard work and a circle of friends makes it a very worthwhile adventure. You never know what that day is going to bring. 

 

If you had to live in a different state, what would it be?

 

I live in the heart of Texas, so I have lots of choices in my state. I can go to the big city, out to the country, to beaches, deserts, forests, grasslands, and mountains. I think I will stay right here in the Great State of Texas.

 

Support McCollum-Lemke Ranches

 

If you live in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, or Arkansas, you can find McCollum-Lemke Ranches beef at the fresh meat counter at your local Whole Foods. Click here for a list of locations. 

 

 


 

 

 

Rancher Name: Lauren Nitschke

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: Circle N Ranch

Location: Jefferson County, Oklahoma

 

What is your favorite bird and why?  

 

Belted Kingfisher… Never having lived near a body of water before now, this entertaining bird has become my favorite feathered friend to watch here on our ranch ponds. Its distinctive, loud rattling call lets me know it’s here to hunt. I love watching them dive down from a high perch straight into the water at amazing speed, surface with their prize, and flit back into a tree to prepare to spear another tasty treat. 

 

What do you wish more people knew about conservation on your ranch? 

 

It’s HARD work! First, we’re going against the grain (literally!) by rejecting conventional practices such as tillage, chemical sprays and fertilizers, and growing monoculture pastures. Second, the effort put into grazing strategies that move our cattle onto fresh pasture constantly is always challenging. Third, the way we move cattle and manage our forages (such as no-till drilling seeds and not overgrazing) puts carbon and moisture back in the soil in a way conventional cattle ranching does not. Continuing to build soil health this way increases microbial populations so the cycle can repeat without having to add more and more inputs. It’s great for the soil, the plants, wildlife, and our cattle, as well as being a more cost-effective approach.

 

Any advice for women looking to pursue a career in ranching? 

 

Learn all you can about the concept of regenerative agriculture and animal welfare best practices. Don’t look to conventional land grant universities for depth of experience in either, but investigate alternative resources such as Holistic Management International, The Noble Research Institute, Regeneration International, and The Savory Institute. Make sure you have goals and metrics to measure your progress, financial stability, and mentors actually practicing these methods. Read, read, read, and attend recommended conferences and workshops for education AND networking – you don’t want to go it alone! I also encourage investigating certification requirements for organizations like Audubon and American Grassfed Association to become familiar with the specific protocols that will point toward worthy ranching goals. 

 

Niche markets have the potential to be more profitable than the commodity market. Identify your ideal customer and market only to that person or entity. Don’t shy away from charging what you deserve to be paid. Ranching shouldn’t be a fast dive into broke!

 

What’s your dream job? 

 

Any endeavor that supports and educates others about regenerative agricultural practices and their importance to returning health to our soils and ecosystem, nutrition to our food and vitality to our bodies. I’m living my dream job every day as I interact with friends, neighbors, and our customers, and I feel exceedingly blessed to be in this place.

 

Support Circle N Ranch

 

You can support Circle N Ranch if you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area by visiting Nitschke Natural Beef to learn more about pick up locations and to place an order.   

 

 


 

 

 

Rancher Name: Wendy Taggart 

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: Burgundy Pasture Beef 

Location: Grandview, Texas 

 

What is your favorite bird and why? 

 

The Cattle Egret – cows like them too. It’s great to see one creature helping another to get along. 

 

What do you wish more people knew about conservation on your ranch? 

 

Over the last few years we have converted 1,200 acres of farmland back to native-type prairie (Climax Plant Community). 

 

Any advice for women looking to pursue a career in ranching?  

Success in ranching is not only understanding the land but understanding that any business must eventually justify its management and inputs. It is a great time to be progressive and of the “open minded” approach in agriculture. 

 

What’s your dream job? 

 

Conversing while handing a customer (home cook) a cut of meat that I know literally everything about…from the pasture to the plate. 

 

 

Support Burgundy Pasture Beef

 

Visit one of Burgundy Pasture Beef’s three retail stores, or visit all three, if you live in Dallas, Fort Worth, or Grandview, Texas. Burgundy Pasture Beef also ships nationwide, so if you don’t live in the area you’re still in luck! Click here to place your order online.

Women In Audubon Conservation Ranching: Colorado and Wyoming

 

 

Rancher Name: Sarah Gleason

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: Gleason Bison

Location: Hesperus, Colorado

 

What is your favorite bird and why?

 

I have two. The first is the Turkey Vulture…which is my spirit animal. The second is the Ferruginous Hawk. We have one that nests every year in our southern pastures, and I love watching her and her fledglings hunt the pastures in summer evenings.

 

What do you wish more people knew about conservation on your ranch?

 

We use an outcome-based methodology to measure the work we are doing. Rather than a practice-based approach, Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV) is outcome-based and provides empirical data on whether or not the land is regenerating. I feel this is very important, both as a land and livestock manager, to be able to show data that supports learning and the story of the land.

 

Any advice for women looking to pursue a career in ranching?

 

No dream is too big, and nothing is ‘unrealistic’. Go for it. With the right people and enough human creativity, anything is possible. Also, the people who critique you, tease you, give you a hard time, etc., will be just as valuable on your journey as the ones that build you up – value both.

 

Where is the worst smelling place you’ve been?

 

Cleaning out the grease trap in a sushi restaurant in Edwards, CO (outside Vail, CO). I waited tables at the restaurant, and it was a deep cleaning day. The. Worst. Smell.

 

Support Gleason Bison

 

Gleason Bison has partnered with Audubon Certified rancher-retailer REP Provisions to sell Sarah’s bison products nationwide! Click here and have a Colorado Bison Box shipped to your door.

 

 


 

 

Rancher Name: Terry Henderson

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: Cougar Valley Ranch

Location: Shawnee, Wyoming

 

What is your favorite bird and why?

 

I love the Rocky Mountain (Western) Meadowlark. I eagerly watch for it every spring because when I hear that beautiful song, I know spring is truly returning (although in varying degrees of pushing back winter). I can hear them singing all summer long, while I am outdoors, and it lifts my spirits whenever I hear it. I always look to see if I can spot the male (the singers).

 

What’s been your biggest work-related conservation success?

 

When my husband and I started ranching together, we had one portion of over 3,000 acres that only had one drilled well and a handful of stock ponds that usually dried up by the end of the summer in our high plains desert environment, with only a single cross (or dividing) fence. Over the past 24 years, we have built seven fences to subdivide pastures and drilled 11 water wells to provide better range management and water for wildlife and livestock. We are no longer dependent on dried-up stock ponds.

 

Who’s been your most influential woman mentor?

 

I would have to say my mother. She was a strong leader in the family of 10. Although she came from agricultural roots, she spent her adult life away from there. She taught good work ethics, moral values, a strong love of family and friends, true faith in God, and to always be a true lady, even in the midst of tragedy, turmoil, and chaos.

 

What’s your dream job?

 

When I was in college, I worked as a part-time secretary and in foodservice. That taught me I would never thrive in an office/enclosed environment. My dream job has been being a cowboy all my adult life. I feel sorry for those who cannot live their dream jobs.

 

Support Cougar Valley Ranch

 

Terry sells her beef locally to neighbors for pick up in Glenrock or Chugwater, Wyoming and accepts orders in October for finished beef in June. You can place your order by emailing Terry at naturalgrassbeef@hotmail.com.

 

 


 

 

Rancher Name: Adrienne Larrew

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: Kiowa Creek Ranch | Corner Post Meats

Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado

 

What is your favorite bird and why?

 

When we were ranching on the Wind River in Wyoming, there was a Bald Eagle that flew the river every morning in the winter. It was mesmerizing to watch.

 

What’s been your biggest work-related conservation success?

 

Connecting the dots that eating is an agricultural act. Your food budget should have a conservation value. I discuss this quite a bit with NPR’s Ashley Ahearn on the Women’s Work podcast, Women's Work: NPR.

 

Any advice for women looking to pursue a career in ranching?

 

Be you, be authentic. Whether you are a woman or man, rancher or banker. Be you, be authentic. You don’t have to prove that you are as strong as or better than. Just be you, be authentic. Let YOUR superpower shine.

 

If you had to live in a different state, what would it be?

 

I lived in Colorado until I was 21. Once I graduated college, I bounced all over the Rocky Mountain region working on different ranches and lived in five different states. I’d happily move back to Wyoming or Montana if the circumstance were right.

 

Support Kiowa Creek Ranch

 

With just about every cut and beef product you can imagine, Corner Post Meats ships beef raised on Kiowa Creek Ranch anywhere in the U.S. Click here to take a gander now!

 

 


 

 

Rancher Name: Jen Livsey

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: Flying Diamond Ranch

Location: Kit Carson, Colorado

 

What is your favorite bird and why?

 

I’ve always thought the Long-billed Curlew is the coolest bird we get on our ranch.

 

What do you wish more people knew about conservation on your ranch?

 

Prioritizing the health of our land so that we can give our children and grandchildren something worth being part of is ingrained in every member of my family (we are 100% family-owned). We love seeing birds and all kinds of wildlife flock to our ranch because we know their presence is an honest compliment.

 

If you could enjoy a meal with any woman, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

 

My great-grandma. I would love to talk to her as an adult and hear about her life marrying into ranching life in the middle of nowhere. She was also a total babe and could give me some fashion tips.

 

If you had to live in a different state, what would it be?

 

Well, I’m married to a Texan and went there for grad school, so I could do it again. I find Texans’ state pride very endearing.

 

Support Flying Diamond Ranch

 

Another national retailer, you can support Jen and her family no matter where you live! Check out their online store here.

 

 


 

 

Rancher Name: Deirdre Macnab

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: 4M Ranch

Location: Rio Blanco County, Colorado

 

What is your favorite bird and why?

 

Barred Owl: Its plaintive cry makes your heart expand and the world stop.

 

What conservation projects are you working on right now?

 

Managed grazing. Soil, soil, soil. We continue to learn as we manage our cows in both pasture and dry upland range for greater water retention in the soil, healthier forage, more soil building legumes. By forgoing fertilizer and weed spray, we are learning how to use grazing to improve the health of the soil, the health of our cows, and the overall vitality of the ecosystem. Last year, we released about 100,000 special beetles to hold back the explosion