For us, restoration ranching is about restoring a healthy relationship between people and the nature we live in. At Freestone Ranch, our model for ranching is a collaboration with nature where nature supports our needs for food, water, air, beauty and a home and our presence and efforts make the ecosystems around us healthier, more diverse and more productive. The Native Americans who created and tended the landscapes we value are a source of inspiration for us as we work and learn to have positive impacts on the ecosystems we are responsible for.
The plant ecosystems in our area evolved with disturbance. Unlike many trees, grasses cannot voluntarily shed their leaves, so they need something in their environment to return their biomass back to the soil to keep grass plants healthy and abundant. It’s an important process for cycling nutrients, improving soils, and increasing diversity.
As recently as about twelve thousand years ago, there were megafauna like mammoths and giant sloths that ate the grasses, shrubs, and trees. When those large herbivores went extinct, perhaps from human hunting and climatic shifts, fire took primary responsibility for larger scale disturbances. The Native Americans used intentional fire extensively as a tool to manage these landscapes and keep them open and productive for humans and wildlife alike. Today, fire is not a tool we can as extensively and precisely as cattle, but the millennia-old legacy of cyclical disturbance can be continued with cattle, whose physiology and digestive tracts serve as proxies for large animals of long ago.
For us, working with domestic ruminants to keep grasslands open and healthy is not about recreating the past – but rather, using the resources available in the present to support a better future.