Dakota Farmer

A high-density, intensively managed grazing system is at the heart of this conservation and efficiency focused ranch in western South Dakota.

May 2, 2013

3 Min Read

The Guptill Ranch, Quinn, S.D., has won the 2013 Leopold Conservation Award. The award recognizes achievement in voluntary stewardship and management of natural resources.

Pat and Mary Lou Guptill and their children operate a 7,000-acre cattle ranch. They run 130-180 commercial Angus and Red Angus cows and custom graze yearlings in a high density, intensively managed grazing system. They have dramatically improved grass production and diversity on their ranch and have seen a significant increase in cattle production, forage yields, wildlife habitat and soil health.


The Guptills have operated the ranch for about 25 years. Their focus over the last 10-15 years has been to improve the land and create a herd of cattle that don't need grain or protein supplement. The Guptills breed their cows so that they  calve in May now so that cows are able to get the nutrition they need from spring grass. Throughout the winter, the cows are limit grazed, which means they are fenced to a pasture area that provides grazing for about 1 or 2 weeks. Then the fence is moved forward to a fresh area for another 1-2 weeks. If cows need additional nutrients, they are fed alfalfa hay. Instead of creep feeding calves with grain, they provide the calves with special access to fresh water. Research has shown that fresh water can add as much as 50 pounds to calf weights. The more efficient grazing system has allowed the Guptills to reduce their to only 600-700 acres, half of what was previously used.

 "The more we change, the more we learn," says Pat, who been a volunteer instructor at grazing schools sponsored by the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition. "Our goal is to make the land better for future generations."

Brent Hagland, president of the Sand County Foundation, which is sponsoring the award with the help of several South Dakota groups and agribusinesses, has a high praise for the Guptills.

 "You are unlikely to find agriculturalists elsewhere in our United States who exceed the Guptill family's use of land with love and respect," he says.

The Leopold Conservation Award comes with a $10,000 cash prize and crystal trophy that will be presented to the Guptills at the  South Dakota Cattlemen's Association's annual convention in December. There will be tour of the ranch this summer.

The Leopold Conservation Award in South Dakota is possible thanks to contributions from many organizations, including: American State Bank, Belle Fourche River Watershed Partnership, Daybreak Ranch, Ducks Unlimited, Farm Credit, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Millborn Seeds, Mortenson Family, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Partners for Fish & Wildlife, Professional Alliance, South Dakota's Conservation Districts, South Dakota Department of Environment & Natural Resources, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, South Dakota Grassland Coalition, South Dakota State University Foundation, The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund.

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