Broken Box Ranch / Sundstrom Family of Lincoln County, Nebraska
2011 State Award Winner
The Sundstrom family has owned and taken care of land in Lincoln County since the early 1900’s. Edward Sundstrom came to the United States from Sweden in 1904. In 1908, he married Christine Pearson in Dawson County. She also was born in Sweden and came to America seeking a better life. They settled on land between Brady and Moorefield and had three sons. Their youngest son, Chester, was born in 1913 and continued an interest in the land and raised cattle. Chester married Thelma Miller in 1940 and lived briefly in California when their son Larry was born. They soon moved back to the “good life” in Nebraska. Two more children, Kay and Raymond, joined the family. They lived many years in the hills between Brady and Moorefield. Larry married Donna Sommer in 1967 and they continued working with the land and livestock. Larry and Donna’s sons Rustin (Russ) and Neil are the 4th generation of Sundstroms to provide stewardship for the land. The boys credit their Dad and Grandpa for the strong conservation education they received from them growing up on the land.
The Sundstroms are constantly looking for ways to manage their livestock and grazing resources in a more efficient and profitable manner. They have utilized the facilitating practices of wells, pipelines, tanks, and cross fence to set up a grazing strategy that has improved the rangeland resource significantly in recent years. They also manage the timing of grazing, intensity, and periods of rest in their pastures to shift the plant species composition to a greater prominence of more productive grasses, such as big bluestem and sideoats grama. The Sundstroms have cleared the invasive eastern red cedar trees from all accessible grassland areas to increase the acres available for grazing, while at the same time improving wildlife habitat for mule deer and grassland birds.
The Sundstroms strive to maximize pounds of beef per acre while improving the rangeland resource. This is accomplished by improving forage harvest efficiency through their rotational grazing strategy, and by selecting genetics for their cow herd that are well suited to the rough hills of southeast Lincoln County. They have adjusted their calving dates to May-June to take advantage of green grass, reduce hay feeding expense, and minimize labor requirements during calving. The cows are viewed as income producers for the calves they produce, but also as tools to improve the soil, water, plant, and wildlife resources on the ranch.
All resources are effectively considered in a systems approach to manage the grasslands, labor, livestock, and economics of the operation. The Sundstroms believe in using what they have as effectively as possible. They observe that their sloping loess hills pastures catch more rainfall and have less runoff as they leave more grass height after grazing. They also realize that those grass plants have a better root system when cattle are not allowed to graze too much. Stronger roots better utilize soil moisture and provide more reserve strength for the grasses.
The Sundstroms use their cropland acres to grow supplemental forage sorghum and alfalfa. They also utilize corn stalks in the fall and winter. Russ and Neil Sundstrom own and operate a land clearing service in addition to ranching. They specialize in mechanical removal of invasive species such as cedar trees from the uplands in southeast Lincoln County.
They strive to maximize efficiency in this process while delivering a good result to their clients. Also through their land clearing business they find new ideas from other producers that can be tried out and sometimes fully implemented on the ranch if it works well for them. They often find there is an optimum that works better than the maximum. For example, they do not remove cedar trees in the steepest draws and they also recognize that male cedar trees can be left behind for wind protection with no risk of spreading small trees later. Russ and Neil have set a good example by clearing cedar trees from their most productive grazing acres.
The Sundstrom’s stewardship goes beyond the normal contracted service of general land clearing. They share with clients their experience in grazing management, noxious weed control, long term planning for future infestations, erosion prevention and protection, prescribed burning preparation, and various economic considerations. They have effectively worked with and promoted state and federal programs to assist landowners with cedar encroachment issues, as well as cross fencing and water placement opportunities. In 2009 the Sundstroms hosted a tour on their ranch that highlighted the grazing management and cedar control work they have accomplished with help from cooperating agencies.
Many people attended the tour, including fellow members of the Loess Canyon Rangeland Alliance, a landowner driven conservation group. These are just a few examples of how the Sundstrom’s stewardship and invasive species management efforts have extended well beyond the boundaries of their own ranch. Congratulations to the Sundstrom family for the recognition of their conservation and resource management efforts! They are well deserving of the Grassland Conservation Award from the Twin Platte Natural Resources District, with special thanks to Great Western Bank for sponsoring this year’s award!