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Resilience Rodeo - Dugan Bad Warrior - The Importance of the Pasture

For this weeks “Resilience Rodeo”, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member Dugan Bad Warrior shares how he changed his paradigm to focus not only on the animals that make up his operation, but to focus more specifically on the pasture.

Dugan Bad Warrior knows the importance of family in the ranching lifestyle. He has and will continue to make changes to his management to improve that life for himself and for his children. “Years ago, before I started this, I was still conventional ranching, calving in late March, early April, going through some tough times and my kids seen it. And I went through a bout of depression and I didn't know it, but my kids got to the point where they told me they didn't want to ranch. That was one driving factor to help me realize there's got to be a better way.” By changing to practices that gave his pastures rest, Dugan was also able to experience that same rest. “The way I look at the land and the things I do for it is, it brings me joy now. It’s fun. My girls actually want to do this with me.”

Dugan Bad Warrior
Dugan Bad Warrior

1) What one thing have you done that has been most important to the success of your operation?

What one thing has been most important to the success of the operation, is probably changing my paradigm and understanding that there are other ways to ranch and better ways to ranch for the pasture, and not specifically look at the animal but look at the pasture.

2) Can you recall a moment or time when the light bulb went on for you to change the way you were grazing?

The time that the light bulb went on for me to change the way I was grazing, was when I first went to Ranching for Profit and they showed me different managed grazing videos and practices. It showed that I got to do something different because I was hurting the ground and helping it at the same time, but I wasn't doing the best job I could do.

3) What surprised you most when you changed the way you were grazing?

What surprised me most when I changed the way I was grazing was how fast the land responded to just making changes and giving it proper rest. I didn't see it in my animals right off. I think the biggest thing was seeing that response the land had to the changes.

4) What would you say is the biggest misconception people have, who are not managing their grazing system for resiliency and soil health?

I think most guys who are still doing it the way they've always done it still think they're doing a good job. They just don't understand the plants stages that need to happen. And I think that they need to understand that there is rest that needs to come when a plant is stressed, it needs to have the rest and recovery time in order to get the production back.

5) Is there something you'd still like to do that you haven't yet to improve your soil health or grazing system?

I think a lot more cross fencing to get me to manage my ground a lot better is something I would really like to do. I think because of the terrain I have, it's real challenging to do temporary. Temporary is great to do, but I would like a lot more permanent cross fences that I can pull off of and not have to run temporary so far. And water. Water is always going to be one of the big things that I want to continue to improve. But those two things I think are things that I really, really would like to do yet.

6) What advice do you have for someone who is considering changing their grazing system to one that's better for building soil health?

I would try to reach out to as many places as I can and get educated on it, because you can hurt the ground if you're not careful by just sticking a lot of animals on there. I think you need to know what practices work in order to make it effective and not just understand that a lot more animals on a pasture is good, but that it can hurt it because of time. Time is one of the biggest things people don't understand with grazing, time is the biggest factor.

7) When you walk across your grasslands, what do you look for as an indicator of healthy grassland and healthy soil?

When I walk across my pastures, what I look for to indicate healthy soils is the more diversity of native species. The more species you have, I think the healthier your soil is, the less species you have, it means you probably got something wrong, something is going on that you need to address. But I think the most species I can get out there would show me that I'm doing something right.

8) What change have you made that you had first thought would never work?

The change that I made at first that I thought would never work and it took me a long time to do it was changing my calving dates. I always thought because I was chasing pounds for years and years and thought that was the way to be profitable. Once I moved to May calving, I will never go back to anything but that. Calving with nature, that is something I was very afraid to do because I was afraid to see the results in a negative way, but they've been nothing but positive.

9) What are the signs that your land is resilient and what does resiliency mean to you?

I guess the signs, as we've seen today, in a pretty major drought, is that my pastures are healthy and got a lot of diversity in it. My ground is pretty resilient, but what does resilience mean to me? I guess resilience to me is being able to withstand major weather events, is the more resilient your ground is to that is, to different weather events, is a good thing.

10) Which of these three words, R words, do you relate to, or do you think is most important and why? Rotate, rest, or recover?

I would say rest is probably the most important, because if your ground isn't getting the proper rest, it doesn't have the chance to recover. So having the proper amount of rest is the biggest thing. You can rotate as many times as you want, but if you don't give it the rest, you're never going to see any recovery or any sort of gains in your pastures.

11) You got the five principles of soil health. One of them is animal impact, which obviously that's something as a rancher, you just naturally do, but the Gabe Brown and Ray Archuleta and those guys have added, they say that there's a sixth principle, which is observation and basing your changes on observation. So how much of what you do is based on observation, how in tune with things are you really paying attention to things and adjusting because of this?

I think observation is a big thing, because when I make a change, I usually try to photograph it. Either that or if I don't photograph it, I've definitely got a mental picture of it. And I come back again to see what this practice has done. Has it hurt it or negatively impacted, or positively impacted? I think observing what you've done is a big thing to move forward or to change your practice. Observation is a huge thing, which we teach in the South Dakota Grassland Coalition’s grazing school. You got to have your sites where you come back and observe what you've done, because if you don't, then how do you know you're really making a positive or negative impact?


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1. Podcast page for drought planning fact sheets, Q&As, news, podcasts and more.

2. Video page to watch videos of other ranchers’ journeys toward improved rangeland/pasture.

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