• Michael Cox

Jeannie Franceus Discusses Being a Non Operating Land Owner

A fundamental explanation of Adaptive Grazing Management by an involved Non Operating Land Owner.


Jeannie Franceus grew up on a farm in South Dakota, moved away after college for forty years, then returned to manage her family's ranch. In this podcast, she talks to Buz Kloot about how she has become a Super Involved Landowner.


Jeannie Franceus
Jeannie Franceus

Many Non-operating Landowners (NOLO's) are typically hands-off partners. They rent land to cattle ranchers and allow them to manage the pasture as they see fit. Jeannie is much more involved. Spending her early years living in rural Woonsocket, SD, Jeannie was always around, and comfortable with, cattle. Involved with 4-H at an early age, she showed cattle until leaving for South Dakota State University, where she earned a degree in Animal Science.


After graduation, she decided to "see how the other half lives" and moved to the big city. For 40 years, first Chicago, later Portland, OR; living the fast lane life and raising a family. But when her father died in 1997 and their long-time tenant passed away in 1998, Jeannie became more involved with the Wessington Springs property.


She had always been connected to the idea of ranching. "In the city, nothing changes when the seasons change, in the country, everything does." But she also wasn't too fond of managing cattle in South Dakota’s infamous winters. So, the idea of enjoying someone else’s cattle all summer and sending them home for the winter (a.k.a. renting pasture for seasonal grazing) was appealing. So after caring for her mother in Naples, FL for the last five years of her life, Jeannie decided to go home to South Dakota and to live the dream, because, "Ranching and cattle are in my blood."


Deciding that being an involved land owner was the way to go, Jeannie became an active participant. She learned to have a "best interest at heart" leasing contract and committed to "do my best to do the very best for my renters." Eventually she got to the place she is today, where the landowner and the renter work together toward the same goals.


Jeannie recognized a noxious weed problem as her first real conservation challenge. A local “expert” suggested aerial spraying the entire ranch. But the NRCS’s Range Management Specialist Dave Steffen explained that she would lose all broadleaf plant diversity, including wildflowers, if she did that. He also explained to her the deep and complex root system of Canada thistles which makes them such an insidious enemy, and is also why a topical, manual removal is not effective. Instead, he recommended spot-spraying Canada thistles, using Stinger which is renowned for its 98% kill rate (Milestone was not yet available at that time), making repeat application virtually unnecessary. This made environmental sense to her, and has eliminated the need for massive quantities of chemical use annually. NOTE: Where terrain allows, frequent mowing (keeping plants from producing seed) is the ideal strategy, but this was not possible on Jeannie’s property because of rugged terrain.


Jeannie knew instinctively that the best long-term noxious weed control is strong competition, because healthy, lush grass eliminates opportunity for thistles. She learned that Musk thistles, unlike Canada thistles, have a simple tap root and are easily killed by pulling or chopping an inch below soil surface. And after controlling massively dense areas with spot spray, she and her boys began the ultimate test, using leather gloves and hoes. Their goal: KEEP THEM FROM GOING TO SEED, because if you keep noxious weeds from going to seed, you will win.


After noticing a neighbor's radically improved and healthy grass, she asked his secret. He had created pasture “cells” and was rotating cattle from cell to cell every 4-7 days. On that neighbor’s recommendation, she began attending meetings and workshops hosted by the SD Grassland Coalition. With coaching from these valuable mentors, she and her renter developed a program, rotating cattle on a regular basis and dealing with issues and problems as they come up. As Buz put it, "It is more of an art than a science."


Invasive early cool-season grasses which were introduced to the area decades ago, particularly Kentucky bluegrass and Smooth Brome continue to create challenges and require special management. Water erosion has been effectively solved as the rotating cattle do not spend enough time in one area to turn grassland into dirt. Jeannie even grazes her lawn, and is working to see warm season native grasses return there as well..


Jeannie tells of interviewing a potential renter, and explaining her grazing strategy to him to see if he was agreeable. He stopped her at one point and said, “Look, you have to consider what’s best for the cattle and not just what’s best for the grass.” She stared at him in amazement and thought: 'Listen to yourself. I want healthy, lush grass. So do your cows! What's best for the pasture produces optimum nutrition, and IS best for the cattle."


Jeannie is focused on the fact that soil health is intimately linked with human health. She asks us to consider that (a) many bacteria that are in a healthy human gut are identical to those in healthy soil, and (b) for every “bad” insect there are somewhere between 1700 to 2000 good insects. And she actively wonders whether pests like alfalfa weevils and Canadian Thistle are a nuisance to modern agriculture because a former predator of those pests is now extinct thanks to random and misguided spraying of chemicals.


In addition to providing healthier grass by rotating cattle on pastures, Jeannie has required that renters do not use chemical pour-on, which is known to kill dung beetles. As a result, they are seeing that dung piles disappear more rapidly, and over time, are expecting that associated flies will be reduced. Her renters report minimal to NO cases of pinkeye problems annually, and only a few cases of foot rot. They also have reported calves that average 80 pounds heavier at weaning than those from more conventional pasturing.


Because of such encouraging changes, Jeannie is exploring ways to improve human health along the way. Using Dr. Kristine Jones and her various podcasts, YouTube entries, and books, as well as her personal experience, Jeannie Franceus has developed a ranching lifestyle that focuses on natural processes, common sense, and adherence to problems with an approach that she calls "less cannon and more flyswatter." (If you’ve got a fly in the house, you don’t get out the cannon!)


Jeannie is a member of the SD Grasslands Coalition, and we also provide a link to a 6 ½ minute “Amazing Grasslands” video that gives you an idea of Jeannie’s land, how she moves on it and her working relationship with tenant, Mark Guericke – this is well worth the watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIj07FFdk28 For more information on Non-Operating Landowners (NOLOs) in South Dakota, please go to https://www.nolosd.org/ and check out the new NOLO/Tenant Partnership Stories! Check out free resources at the NRCS: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/sd/home/


Dr. Kristine Jones website: https://www.amazingcarbon.com/


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