Rebirth of a Ranch: Part 2
Photos and Word: David Cumming
For some time, the land of the future Kiowa Creek Ranch and Sanctuary lay dormant.
Then came the Black Forest fire in 2013. Hundreds of acres alight with violent embers burning native brome grass and dry sage. Junipers charred. Ponderosas collapsed and hollowed.
In time, Kiowa Ranch recovered and was given another chance. The devastated treetops were trimmed and left in heaps across the full 1,500-acre ranch where flickers could nest in their cavities. Seedbeds, lying dormant for generations, were churned and stimulated by the hooves of beasts and bugs, transforming meadows more suitable for grazing.
These hills are more valuable now for ranchers like Mike Preisler and Adrienne Larrew, Kiowa Creek’s manager and owner of Corner Post Meats. When the two first met, Adrienne threw Mike in a freezer and had him butcher and clean chickens just to see if he had the right stuff to work alongside Dan Lorenz, who cares for all souls with a heartbeat. This includes Zeus and Apollo, the sheepdogs who scare off coyotes and other prey.
As we surveyed the ranch one day in the heat of summer, Adrienne explained, “Mother Nature did not create barns. Man did. We try to honor Mother Nature and keep our animals outside on pasture where they are more of an asset than a liability. Every animal has a distinct role--some by taking something away from the land, while others put something back in return. “
“In other words, they graze and stimulate the land. They leave behind their best fertilizer, giving us healthier soil and plants. And above all, animals themselves are healthier because they are outside.
“They’re just like us,” Adrienne said. “If you’re cooped up in an office all day, you’re kind of cranky; you’re not your best self.”
“You don’t put on good weight,” Mike chimes in from the bumpy back of an ATV, which had woven its way through healthy grass and some barely discernible trails.
This is getting to the heart of conservation ranching in Colorado. — which was once part of a vast native prairie of the Great Plains covering more than 300 million acres, our state — has now been developed and converted for various agricultural purposes. Practices arose that were compromising the landscape: Unsustainable management of livestock. Energy development. All causative forces that stripped and degraded grasslands. Enter the National Audubon Society, who created the Conservation Ranching Program. Kiowa Creek Ranch is the only certified ranch in Colorado helping to combat the degradation of grasslands and by abiding by to the tenets of “Forage and Feeding, Animal Health & Welfare, and Environmental Sustainability.”
Scattered throughout the acreage are moveable plots bordered with electrical fencing. “We use a lot of electric fence to keep them moving so they can graze on the best grass there is,” Mike said. The ATV made its way to an enclosure with simple 4x8 wooden huts, surrounded by a gathering of 60 sows and piglets. Some scurried away, but many still frolicked in front of us, before retreating back to their five sows.
Adrienne would like to tell the hogs, “Here is your plate for this period of time. Devour everything there and we’ll move you on to a fresh plate.” This allows for equal rest and disturbance time, maintaining high levels of nutrition for all critters.
“And that makes for super tasty meat,” she said. “See, we’re solely dependent on what Mother Nature lets us grow. If she’s not giving us anything, then that changes what we do.”