Otter Creek Ranch of Keith County, Nebraska

Otter Creek RanchThe Twin Platte Natural Resources District presented its 2012 Grassland Conservation Award at a banquet held the evening of Tuesday December 11 at the Haythorn Ranch Figure Four Traditions Event Center. The Otter Creek Ranch received the award, which was presented to Don and Joyce Tisdall – Owners and K.C. Peterson – Manager. The award consists of two plaques and an outdoor sign for the northwest Keith County ranch. The award was sponsored this year by Adams Bank and Trust, which was represented at the banquet by Bruce Luehrs.

The Otter Creek Ranch is named after the meandering stream that springs up in the Sandhills five miles north of Lake McConaughy. Otter Creek is one of very few streams in Nebraska capable of supporting trout populations that live in the cool, pure water that surfaces from the ground and flows over a gravel creek bed. Don and Joyce Tisdall purchased the ranch that included the headwaters of Otter Creek in January of 2000, as well as adjacent grassland property later on.
Don and ranch manager, K.C. Peterson, worked promptly to put in place improvements that enhanced their ability to manage grazing for years to come on the ranch, as well as improve the natural function of a rare watershed. Don and K.C. began working early on in the process with the Natural Resources Conservation Service staff at Ogallala, along with other grassland conservation professionals. They found that USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and a partnership through the Sandhills Task Force would help them meet ranch goals, which included developing a planned grazing system still in use today.

The new management approach in conjunction with improvements, such as additional livestock water sources, has allowed the ranch grasslands to improve. One project provided for fence installation on both sides of Otter Creek, which limited the time and season in which cattle were allowed to graze the stream banks. Prior to fencing out the stream, cattle would water there but not travel far to graze, leaving the stream bank subject to erosion as the grass close to the stream became depleted. This also left upland parts of the pasture under utilized since the cattle had little motivation to climb very far up the hills.

After the fence was installed, tall native vegetation grew back to protect the stream corridor as a buffer strip. The vegetation stabilized the stream banks and improved the water quality for fish and other wildlife, as well as for cattle that use the area on a limited, managed basis. At the time the stream was fenced, a new livestock water pipeline was in place to provide additional watering locations in pastures above the creek. The new water sources, as well as some cross fencing, allowed for better grazing management in the hilly creek pastures than ever before. Another part of the creek corridor project involved the removal of volunteer Cedar and Russian olive trees.

Their removal was a proactive effort to reduce the spread of those woody invaders and prevent them from taking over the grassland riparian area. Beyond the Otter Creek pastures, additional improvements have been made to enhance the ranch’s ability to successfully manage grasslands farther from the creek. Several thousand feet of livestock water pipeline and new watering locations helped improve grazing distribution over those pastures and aid in the ranch’s livestock management. The ranch was one of many affected by the wildfires in 2012, and grass cover was lost on the portion of the ranch that burned.

Grazing deferment is planned for the burned pastures as recovery will take some time due to the drought. However, the grassland management at the Otter Creek Ranch prior to these natural processes will help the pastures stay resilient and recover faster than if they had not been managed so well.

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