A Walk Through The Hills

Don’t be fooled by the empty look of these hills, they are full of all sorts of life.

After a couple of days of cool temperatures and on and off rain showers, the sun came out this afternoon here at Rock Hills Ranch. I was reasonably caught up on my list of things to do, so I decided to call it a week and take a little walk out through the pasture. My little walk turned in to a jaunt of better than five miles.

As I circled the northwest part of the ranch, I crossed paths with a good number of the members of our grasslands ecosystem. Among them were numerous pheasants, a sharp tailed grouse, a badger, a thirteen line ground squirrel, several ducks, a couple of white-tailed deer, several mule deer, some rabbits, a red tailed hawk, a pair of redwing blackbirds, many western meadowlarks, a number of other songbirds that I was unable to identify, a horse, and a couple hundred cows. I also saw insects of every shape, size, and description and plant varieties without number. All of these organisms– together with the rocks, soil, water, and air– come together to make up the great grasslands ecosystem that we value so highly here on the ranch.

I had plenty of time to think things over while I was out on my walk, and I have three take-away thoughts in particular that I would like to share with you.

1.  When the Lord made these hills, He certainly made something very special. When you are sitting by yourself on a rock on top of the highest hill in the back pasture, looking out over miles upon miles of grasslands, it gives a unique perspective on the world and your place in it. These hills have lasted for centuries, sharing their beauty with anyone who would come and look. There is a reason that families live and work here for generations; they have found something special and they aren’t anxious to leave it. These grasslands are a great gift, and we should all take the time to enjoy them whenever we get the opportunity.

2.  While they look huge and empty from a distance, these hills are full of life when you are up in them.  I mentioned the many creatures that I saw on my walk partly to make a point. There are many different individuals that call the grasslands home, but they are all part of the same biosphere and are heavily dependent on one another. If any one of the many plant or animal populations are depleted, many others are adversely affected. The symbiotic relationships between them are often delicate, but when they all come together they make up the beautiful web that is our ecosystem.

3.  As stewards of this biome, it is our responsibility to work to protect and conserve this great gift. There are many ways small and large that we can do this, and all are important. Just this week we have worked on several projects here on the ranch to help keep our ecosystem healthy and thriving. Over the past few days I have installed bird ramps in several water tanks. These ramps help birds and other small animals to get a drink from cattle water tanks without falling in. Should they end up in the water, these ramps help them to escape unharmed. This helps protect many songbirds, and also helps maintain good quality water for other animals to drink. I have also made and set a number of dung beetle traps. We are in the process of trying to get a handle on what dung beetle species we have here on the ranch and what we can do to protect them (I hope to dedicate an entire post to this project next week). Luke has spent a number of days this week spraying invasive weeds to help preserve the habitat of native grasses and promote better grazing areas. Lyle and Luke also planted food plots this week. These will be used for pheasant hunting in the fall, but they are also an important source of food and shelter for countless bird species throughout the year.


I hope that I have been able to convey some of what I saw and thought about on my walk today. No matter how effectively I write, however, it could never hope to take the place of seeing and feeling these things for yourself. So the next time you get the chance, come on out to the grasslands. Appreciate the amazing place that they are. Witness the life that fills them. And do your part to insure the sustainable health of this wonderful ecosystem.

Summer Intern Introduction

Hello Everyone! I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the summer intern here at Rock Hills Ranch. My name is Garth Gatson and I live on a farm in Northeast Missouri a little over 800 miles southeast of RHR. I am currently a junior at the University of Missouri where I am majoring in Animal Science. There at the University I am also a member of the Meat Judging Team. Beef cattle are my primary interest and area of study, and I look forward to expanding my knowledge this summer.

There are many things that I hope to learn this summer here at Rock Hills Ranch, and my education is already well underway. I arrived just a little over a week ago and I have already gotten a little taste of a lot of different things here on the ranch. Some of the jobs that I will be doing here are similar to what I have done in Missouri, but everything is just a little (or in some cases a lot) different in South Dakota.

So far, in addition to learning my way around the ranch and surrounding community,  I have built fence, fixed fence, torn out fence, moved cows, checked cows, built mineral feeders, and helped some SDSU grad students on their intensive grazing research project here on the ranch. Additionally, I have tried long and hard to talk some sense into cow number 413. 413 lost her calf early last week, and since then Luke, Lyle, and I have been tag teaming our efforts in an attempt to graft another calf onto her. So far, we haven’t been too successful. We are working in the best interest of both the cow and the calf, but evidently she doesn’t quite see it that way.

I am greatly enjoying my time here and anticipate many exciting adventures to come. I will pick out a few of the most interesting ones and write about them here from time to time. There is a long list of visitors and tours that are coming to RHR this summer, and I look forward to meeting many of you during my time here.