Hotchkiss, Colo. — The Houseweart Ranch in west-central Colorado has received a Bird-Friendly Habitat Certification from the National Audubon Society. Beef produced on the ranch by owners Cynthia and Ira Houseweart and sold under their Princess Beef brand can now carry the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal, a package label that recognizes product origin as lands managed for birds and biodiversity.
The Houseweart Ranch joins a collective of nearly 100 ranches – combining for more than 2.7 million acres – across 15 states to earn this bird-friendly habitat certification. Located in Delta County and the North Fork Valley, the Houseweart Ranch consists of mid-elevation grasslands, rangelands, and shrublands, with Cynthia and Ira Houseweart the fourth family generation to reside on the land. That backdrop of more than a century of family stewardship led the Housewearts to enroll the property in Audubon Conservation Ranching, a habitat program working to stabilize declining grassland bird populations in Colorado and across the U.S. As detailed in the just-released State of the Birds 2022 report, grassland birds are among the fastest-declining bird species in the United States, with a 34% loss since 1970. As an Audubon Certified bird-friendly habitat, the Housewearts are managing their ranch to provide habitat for a wide range of avian species, from Burrowing Owls to Gunnison Sage-Grouse to Western Meadowlarks.
Cynthia Houseweart started the Princess Beef herd in 1999 with a cow named “Princess,” a gift from her ranching mentors, Steve and Rachel Allen. Her herd has roamed the Houseweart Ranch since she and Ira assumed ownership in 2005, where they have implemented a rotational grazing system with a primary objective of building healthy soils that support healthy grasslands. Not unlike their beef, she views wildlife as a healthy product of this management. “We enjoy looking out for a variety of birds on the ranch,” said Houseweart, who whose father, Ed Butterfield, is a former president of Denver Audubon.
Dusty Downey, Conservation Ranching Manager for Audubon Rockies, Audubon’s regional office, says rotational grazing is key – perhaps the biggest key – to creating diverse grassland habitat. “In broad terms, rotational cattle grazing is designed to mimic what herds of roaming bison once did as they moved about the landscape. The effect is a mosaic of short, mid, and taller covers that support bird species with different habitat needs.” Downey points to the Horned Lark and Western Meadowlark as species that flock to the short vegetation created by short periods of high-intensity grazing. On the other side of the fence, he says resting an area from grazing leads to taller-structured plants preferred by species like the Loggerhead Shrike and Vesper Sparrow.
Even with a dedicated and repeat customer base, Cynthia Houseweart says the Audubon Certified bird-friendly is a way to distinguish her operation’s environmental bona fides in an ever-competitive market. The Housewearts sell Princess Beef direct to consumer, with ground beef available year-round at the ranch, and bulk orders available in the fall at pickup locations between Grand Junction and Colorado Springs, or at the Houseweart Ranch. Products are also available through Farm Runners, a regional food distributor specializing in custom-harvested farm products.
For more information about Audubon Conservation Ranching in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, contact Dusty Downey, Audubon Rockies Conservation Ranching Manager, at (307) 756-3941.
About Audubon Conservation Ranching
A wildlife habitat initiative of the National Audubon Society with a unique market front, Audubon Conservation Ranching’s purpose is to stabilize declining grassland bird populations in partnership with ranchers – on whose land 95 percent of grassland birds live. Audubon Conservation Ranching’s enrollment includes 99 ranches, covering more than 2.7 million acres that have earned status as Audubon Certified Bird-friendly Land. Incentivizing this habitat work for birds and biodiversity are consumers with an appetite for conservation, who support it with the purchase of products grazed on these lands. Shoppers see a special package designation – the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal – that sets these products apart. For more information, visit Audubon.org/ranching.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon’s state programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon’s vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.