Step one in making things better: Realize it is possible

Last week, dad and I were in San Antonio for the Cattle Industry Convention And NCBA Trade Show. We were invited as part of the Environmental Stewardship Award Program.  We had been named as the Region VII winner of the program. What we didn't know was that this week, we would also be named the winner of the national award as well.


We were shocked. The other regional winners were very deserving of receiving the honor too, and are each doing great work and sharing the message of stewardship in their areas of influence.  I would not consider us to be in any way "better" than any of them.  It is an honor to be associated with such outstanding people.


I was visiting with a gentleman after the award ceremony.  He had told me that hearing about what we do encouraged and inspired him to continue improving his own operation. I was quick to tell him that we don't have it all figured out, and that we see room for our own improvement as well.  Then he offered his observations about people who win these kinds of awards.  He said they are very often quite humble about what they are doing, and that I was not an exception. I thought about this later, and I came to the conclusion that he's right in his premise. Why? Because I think it takes a humble attitude to come to grips with the idea that things could be better, that I really don't have all the answers, and that I need to find people smarter and more creative or experienced than myself that can help me improve.  


I don't believe that we will ever "arrive" at the place where we have it all figured out. I think we are on the right track generally. But I don't think there's a destination at which we stop moving.  Proverbs talks about wise and foolish people. Wise people do things like seek wise counsel, accept criticism when it is warranted, and think about the future. Foolish people think only in the short-term, listen to what they want to hear, and mock the wise. There is a difference in the heart and character between the wise and the foolish.  Don't know about anyone else, but wise seems like the way to go.


I've had the question from several media people in the last couple days, what has been the most important thing in your success?   I think I've been answering wrong. I usually say something about water development, cross fencing, short-duration grazing, etc. I think the answer really is that we've come to grips with the fact that we don't know everything. We are constantly learning, trying to gain knowledge and wisdom.  


An exciting aspect of being recognized is that we will now have the opportunity to interact with more people about some of the things we do in fact know…that cattle are a critical part of a healthy ecosystem, that beef is a part of a healthy diet, and about some practices we have implemented on our ranch and how well (or not well) they worked. Equally as exciting is being able to learn as we meet people with new ideas and concepts we have not been around before.


It should be an interesting year!

541 Busy


I haven’t updated the 100th Meridian for quite a while.

I’ve been kind of busy.  I know, we’re all busy…  Let me define busy in my world.

From the end of April last year until January 3rd of this year over 500 people passed through our yard and ate at least one meal with us.  This is what happens when you receive nominations for two major conservation awards and end up getting both. We were very honored to receive both the 2014 Aldo Leopold Conservation Award for South Dakota and the NCBA Region 7 Environmental Stewardship Award.  Getting that kind of recognition means people want to come look, take pictures, write articles and make videos. 2015 winners, consider yourselves warned!   

The yearly parade of friends and relatives was even bigger this year because we celebrated Grandma Vivian’s 80 over the 4th of July.   Let me break it down the numbers for you:

Four tour groups: 369 people

Friends and family, who stayed anywhere from one night to 5 weeks: a minimum of 45 (I come up with more everytime I count.)

An engagement supper for Lyle’s sister Valerie and fiancé, Steve Scott:  around 90 people

Garth Gatson, this year’s summer intern, was with us from mid-May-mid-August. Some days he was the only one doing any actual ranch work!

Michael Cotter, our adopted itinerant hired hand and Renaissance man, always shows up when we need him most.  He helped hold things together from the end of September until mid-November.

Hunters:  35

Grand total: a minimum of 541 people that all ate at least one meal at Rock Hills Ranch.

 I planned, shopped, and/ or cooked for every one of those meals, plus many more.   Add to that two film crews, several journalists, one high-risk pregnancy and the consequential birth of twin grandsons, Micah and Noah to Luke and Naomi on October 3.  That’s the Rock Hills Ranchwife definition of busy.

2014 was a wild ride, but I wouldn’t trade our time with any of those people.  When you live where the population density is .2 people per square mile, new faces are a treat, and  conservation minded people are really quality folks!   I will, however, admit to asking the Good Lord for the strength to endure my blessings on several occasions.  

Last week Lyle and Luke went to the Cattle Industry Convention in San Antonio as the Region 7 ESAP representatives.  We were all really shocked when Rock Hills Ranch was announced as the National ESAP winner.  The other 6 regional ESAP winners are doing really great things on the land and promoting beef in interesting and unique ways. I strongly urge you to check out their videos and stories at

 January is an R&R month for us.  Imagine, no one wants to come see us in the dead of a South Dakota winter! Now, vacation time is over.  The phone’s been ringing and that means people will be showing up.  I’m not expecting 541 people busy, but I’d better get all my projects done and work on garden and menu plans so I can enjoy this year’s ride.

Environmental Stewardship Award

We are honored to tell you that we were awarded the National Cattlemen’s Foundation National Winner of the Environmental Stewardship Award. Last fall, we were awarded the winner of Region VII which consists of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.  This week, as part of the Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show in San Antonio, we were named the national winner.  It is hard to believe, given the caliber of the other six regional winners.  

There are many people to thank.  First and most important is our Creator for giving us the creation to care for.  We are in constant awe of all that surrounds us – its complexity, simplicity, beauty, and resiliency. We are very honored to have the privilege to care for it during our tenure in this life.

Our family:  the generations that preceded us may have done things differently than what we do today, but they still passed on a love of the land and the work ethic needed to care for it. I think they would approve of what we’re trying to accomplish, even if it isn’t “the way grandpa did it”.  Our present-day family as well, for continuing to stay connected to the land and care about what happens to it. We hope to make you proud when you tell people removed from agriculture that these are your roots.  (At least we hope not to embarrass you!)

Our neighbors and business partners: the Oxner family, the Vogele family, Jeff Marlette and Jeff and Dixie Beitelspacher, the Huber family, and the Rueb family.  Thank you for your patience and cooperation as we try new and different things to improve the land.

The agency folks at the Natural Resource Conservation Service and US Fish & Wildlife Service:  too many to name, but your technical and financial help in making improvements on our place have been a huge part of getting us to where we are.

The non-agency people who care about stewardship: SD Grasslands Coalition, World Wildlife Fund, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever.  Again, your partnership has been important in getting us here.

Our help over the years. All that fence didn’t put itself up.   There’s been a lot of people who have stayed for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months to help us get done what needed to be done. Your strong backs and willing attitude (genuine or not) have been essential to developing our infrastructure.  And you put up with us! That’s impressive in itself.

Thanks also to the sponsors of the ESAP program:
Dow AgroSciences
Natural Resources Conservation Service
US Fish & Wildlife Service
National Cattlemen’s Foundation
Tyson Foods

We are honored to receive this award and look forward to the upcoming opportunities we’ll have to advance the message of environmental stewardship and how grazing livestock are a vital part of that.

For more information on the Environmental Stewardship Program, visit