Lute Ranches of Arthur County, Nebraska
In 1884, the Lute Ranches started with the original Homestead Ranch in Keith County along the banks of the South Platte River and beside the Westward Trails. In 1920, the Lute Family began the acquisition of what would eventually become The Lute Ranches of Arthur County. After the death of Robert F. Lute II in 1992, Robert’s widow, Kathy Lute established the Robert F. Lute II Trust to carry on and preserve the legacy of the Lute Family ranching tradition. The goals of the Robert F. Lute II Trust are to preserve and improve the ranching operation, while protecting and conserving the natural resources of this fragile ecosystem.
This pragmatic ambition is being accomplished with the collective talents of the Trustees and its partners, Mick & Toni Knott, as well as personnel from USDA-NRCS / FSA and the Twin Platte Natural Resources District. The current Trustees of the Robert F. Lute II Trust are Kathy Lute, Gene Krab, and Kevin O’Donnell, with Rick Bourque serving as Resource and Facility Manager. In 1994, the Trust established their partnership with Mick & Toni Knott, who brought with them a wealth of experience from their prior work in the Sandhills. Mick and Toni’s conservation ethic and work ethic is a good fit for the overall ranch plan.
The Knott’s became valuable partners to the Trustees, as they planned together to enhance the ranch’s grasslands even more than had been accomplished in earlier years. Furthermore, the Knott’s were willing to implement the management changes in livestock rotation necessary to make the best use of the ranch improvements. The Knott’s and the Lute Trustee’s experience has shown them that rotational grazing systems are very effective in the Sandhills. Compared to season-long grazing, the rotational grazing systems help achieve better range condition and a stronger forage base for the operation, while reducing soil erosion and improving wildlife habitat and biodiversity. This shift in management required a commitment to increase water sources and cross fencing.
Natural Resources Conservation Service staff worked closely with Mick & Toni Knott, as well as the Trustees, to implement these changes virtually every year since 1995. The Federal EQIP program has provided cost-share incentives to help phase in these ambitious ranch improvements. Also, the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Program and the former Great Plains program were involved. Improvements made over the last 11 years include: 11 new livestock water wells; 17 new stock tanks; 21,400 ft of livestock water pipeline; 14,300 ft of permanent electric fence; and 22,900 ft of barbed wire cross fence The management decisions that went along with the ranch improvements worked hand in hand to produce a healthier plant community that better utilizes the limited moisture that falls during drought years.
The reserve forage at the end of a growing season helps improve plant vigor through maintaining a healthier root system. This allows the plants to come back stronger in the Spring, while providing more access to the soil moisture. Changes from the traditional use of certain pastures have improved their range condition. Positive outcomes include restoring over 300 acres of old blowouts, which is comparable to acquiring a new half section of land. As the old blowout areas continue to improve in range condition, they will produce more forage for years to come.
The animal impact in a rotational grazing system actually helps stabilize the old blowouts when the livestock presence is limited to a small portion of the growing season. As rotational grazing systems help prevent overgrazing near water sources, the cattle are also encouraged in smaller pastures to better utilize grass further away from the water sources. This improved livestock distribution helps keep desirable grass plants from being grazed repeatedly during the same growing season, which would have weakened those plants.
Another observation is that pheasant, grouse and deer populations are increasing with the improved grass production, along with the rows of shrubs and trees planted to provide food sources and shelter for wildlife, as well as wind protection for livestock. As the implementation and establishment of the practices took place, another positive outcome was the improved labor efficiency of running larger herds through the rotation. Then even as a conservative increase in stocking rate occurred on the ranch with these practices, the operation has still been able to maintain their full cow herd during the recent drought.
Similar range improvements are being made on the other Lute Ranch unit in Arthur County, which the Knott’s also work on with the Trust. Besides their work on the ranch, Mick and Toni Knott also enjoy their family which includes three daughters. Sami and Jeff Guest ranch near Crawford with their three children Megan, Sariah and Tyler. Jennie and Dan Dyer live at Sutherland, where Jennie is a Physical Therapist at Mid-Nebraska Physical Therapy in North Platte, while Dan teaches math and coaches at Sutherland High School. Jessie is at home in Arthur County.