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Regenerative ranching rules at Spring Valley CattleRegenerative ranching rules at Spring Valley Cattle

2022’s North Dakota Leopold Award winners Lance and Anissa Gartner focus on conservation and cattle.

Sarah McNaughton

August 4, 2023

4 Min Read
Gartner assessing land and cattle herd
LAND AND CATTLE: For Lance Gartner, conservation on the operation means getting back to being the best steward of their resources by managing the land and the cattle.Photos by Sarah McNaughton

Moving from conventional to regenerative ranching is a process — one that 2022’s Leopold Conservation Award winner started roughly 20 years ago.

The Leopold Conservation Award recognizes agricultural landowners who are committed to excellence and conservation. The North Dakota winner for 2022 was Spring Valley Cattle, operated by Lance and Anissa Gartner of Glen Ullin.

“It’s a confirmation that the steps we’ve taken have been right,” Lance Gartner said of receiving the award. “Not only are we seeing the benefits of what we’re doing on our land, but we know that other people agree, and this is the direction we need to be moving towards for ourselves and others.”

The North Dakota Leopold Conservation Award partners include:

  • North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition, ND

  • North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts

  • North Dakota Stockmen’s Association

These partners hosted the conservation award tour on July 18, where attendees heard from the Gartners about their ranch and management practices.


The Gartners have been ranching since the early 1990s, slowly transitioning to regenerative agriculture.

“We came from strictly conventional farming and ranching. There’s so much to learn,” Lance Gartner said. “We have a way still to go with management of the grass and land, taking care of the resources and being a good steward of what God’s given us to take care of.”

Following in his father’s footsteps, the operation was home to tillage and season-long grazing, and Gartner said they learned from his dad and did everything the way it was always done. But when his father suffered a heart attack in 2000, they began trying conservation practices.

“We had all this work to do to support two families, so we worked hard for three years and found our first holistic management course in 2004,” he said. “We knew this was the direction we needed to go, and it’s been growing ever since.”

The first practices they incorporated after attending the course in Buffalo, S.D., was cross-fencing and rotational grazing. “We’ve gone from 14 pastures when we started this to 88 pastures right now,” Gartner said.

They also moved from permanent cross fencing to poly-wire fencing, making adjustments as needed.

cow grazing on forage

Their holistic ranch is home to commercial cattle, split between hay and grazing acres. They purchased their first grass-genetics bull in 2004, and the process of improving cattle for their operation has been ongoing ever since.

The ‘Solo cup’ cow

“We look more about the structure of the animal, and what’s going to work with grass-based genetics,” Gartner said.

lance gartner checking cow herd

Steve Campbell of Tailor Made Cattle said during the tour that a “red Solo cup cow” is the ideal animal for all-forage operations. This cow is one with a big belly and wide butt that slopes from hooks to pins. It sheds early in the season, and its last rib is angled between the hock and ankle. The Gartners follow this philosophy to get the most profitability and fertility on their operation.

“We haven’t fed grain to a cow here since 2006, so these animals have to be able to survive on forage,” Gartner said. “I want to see a lot of gut capacity and a proper wedge from front to back and need a shorter animal that possesses grass-based genetics. That’s the type of cow that works under our management.”

A big goal of the Gartners’ operation is to graze every day possible. “When we look back at our hay feeding records, we average around 50 days of feeding per winter,” Gartner said, adding that even during harsh winters on the Plains, their cattle want to graze.

The biggest lessons the Gartners learned during their holistic management journey? “Find a good mentor. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them, that’s what they’re for,” Gartner said.

Find out more about Spring Valley Cattle and the Leopold Conservation Award from the Sand County Foundation.

If you know of a farm or ranch operation that is deserving of being nominated for the Leopold Conservation Award, visit the North Dakota Grazing Lands Coalition to learn more.

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About the Author(s)

Sarah McNaughton

Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress

Sarah McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture communications, along with minors in animal science and Extension education. She is working on completing her master’s degree in Extension education and youth development, also at NDSU. In her undergraduate program, she discovered a love for the agriculture industry and the people who work in it through her courses and involvement in professional and student organizations.

After graduating college, Sarah worked at KFGO Radio out of Fargo, N.D., as a farm and ranch reporter. She covered agriculture and agribusiness news for North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Most recently she was a 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D., teaching, coordinating and facilitating youth programming in various project areas.

She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, serving on the executive board for North Dakota Agri-Women, and as a member in American Agri-Women, Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.

In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, enjoys running with her cattle dog Ripley, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.

Sarah is originally from Grand Forks, N.D., and currently resides in Fargo.

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