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Quality cattle, quality pasture go hand in hand on Bartlett ranchQuality cattle, quality pasture go hand in hand on Bartlett ranch

For Sheila and Kris Louma, pasture management is critical for plant diversity and quality cattle.

August 13, 2018

3 Min Read
ESSENTIAL COMPONENT: Sheila (left) and Kris Luoma focus on raising quality cattle near Bartlett.Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition

Bartlett ranchers Kris and Sheila Luoma take pride in raising high-quality cattle. They are especially focused on raising and marketing replacement females, and use artificial insemination and embryo transfer to access elite genetics from Maine Anjou and Simmental sires for their commercial Angus cowherd.

However, this husband-and-wife team also acknowledges cattle are only half of the equation contributing to a successful ranching operation. Proper grazing management accounts for the other part of their success.

Sheila notes rotational grazing has been important to many aspects of their ranch.

"It's easier to monitor cattle health because we see them more often," she says. "The cattle are also used to being around people and being handled, so they have good dispositions."

Sheila says rotational grazing has improved pasture utilization. And they've been better-prepared to weather drought years.

"In 2012, we didn't have to sell any cows because our pastures were in good condition, and we were able to graze Conservation Reserve Program land," she says.

By grazing CRP acres, the Luomas can give pastures a rest and extend their grazing season. This includes land they own, as well as CRP land owned by neighbors.

"We've noticed, and other CRP landowners comment, how much the plant diversity is improved once it has been grazed," Sheila notes.

Caring for land and livestock has been a rewarding journey for Sheila. She grew up on a farm, showed cattle in 4H and attended college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Initially, she considered a career in teaching. "It was an era when not too many women were in agriculture," she says.

But she followed her interests and first earned a degree in general agriculture, followed by a degree in range management. She landed a position with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service), and instructed Nebraska land on range management over the next 31 years — 17 of which were in the Burwell NRCS office. In 2011, Sheila retired and began ranching with her husband and working as a range consultant.

Throughout her NRCS career, Sheila always kept livestock with her brother and her dad near Spalding. Along the way, Sheila met her husband, Kris. Today, she and Kris continue to run cattle with her brother George Valasek, whose farm is about 30 miles from theirs.

The majority of the Luomas' herd calves from March through May. However, Sheila and Kris also maintain a small herd that calves in August and September, which they use to raise embryo transfer calves for other producers. Their feeder calves are marketed via video auction, while their replacement females are primarily sold private treaty.

While she enjoys applying her range management and conservation knowledge to her own operation, Sheila also continues to share her skills with other landowners. As a certified range consultant through the Society for Range Management, she works with private landowners on Conservation Stewardship Program contracts. She is also a board member for the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, and values the opportunity to network and gain new perspectives.

"I think it's important to get out and see new ideas, but it also gives you some appreciation for what you may have in your own operation," she says.

Sheila encourages landowners to take time to recognize and understand the ecosystem.

"Your management affects plant communities and the grass and livestock that are produced,” she says. “It all goes hand in hand.”

Source: Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition

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