Sustainable, Profitable, and Holistic Management

The Shannon Creek Cattle and Quarter Horse ranch is located on 3,000 acres of tallgrass prairie near Olsburg, KS. The Hubbards own about 500 acres and rent an additional 2,500 where they graze 150 of their own Hereford cows, 45 brood mares in a mare band, five stallions, 250 ewes and 75 nanny goats. Additionally, they custom graze another 160 cows. Managing all of these grazing patterns requires good fencing and reliable water sources. They sought out alternative watering systems that were low-cost, requiring more labor to install but were less expensive. As an added bonus, the watering systems they installed improve water quality and use little to no energy.

The Hubbard family’s unique approach to land management is based on 12 Ranch Philosophies that emphasize working with the land and the entire community. Read on to learn more about this great example of innovation in Kansas!

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Water

Hubbard and family have been utilizing rotational grazing on about 3,000 acres for 25 years north of Manhattan, KS. One of the biggest setbacks to rotational grazing is water development. Considering that the majority of the grazing occurs on leased land, cost was a primary concern. They have used several different methods to expand access to water across the ranch.

  • The flow from two springs is collected into two 10,000 gallon water towers that are pipelined to specific spots in the pasture where they fill tanks with a recharge of 70-80 gallons a minute.
  • A 100 foot well pumps into a 10,000 gal reservoir tower that delivers water over a a mile of pipeline to three permanent tanks that provide water to 16 paddocks.
  • Numerous stock ponds have water lines running through dams that service stock tanks. One of these systems services a pasture across a county road from the water source.

To improve the water quantity from streams, the Hubbards also work to clean drainage areas and remove brush and trees from streams which has more than doubled production from a gallon a minute to 2.5 gallons a minute. They have fenced off ponds to keep out the livestock which results in longer water retention because evaporation rates are slower than those impacted by livestock. 

Quality. The water system improvements ensure that water is available for the livestock in a variety of pastures. However, the improvements also benefit water quality. Livestock tend to congregate around water sources. This can reduce groundcover and increase manure concentration around water sources. According to the K-State Handbook, "Water and Watering Systems, "the water source can become polluted with sediment, nutrients, and fecal coliform and streptococcus bacteria, leading to impaired water quality.”

The Hubbards fence their ponds and place stock tanks below the dams which improves water quality. Alan Hubbard related that even if a creek is not fenced off, the cattle will pass through creek to get to the stock tank as, he believes, stock tanks are more comfortable for the cattle. Furthermore, the fenced off ponds have vegetation all the way down to the water level which results in cleaner water. Alan explains,

We are after as clean of water as we can get. Once we started intense rotations, certain range sites were only used 6 days out of a season. The rest of the time those creek beds have no impact which makes the water quality and soil quality better. We are seeing healthier grass stands, better water retention, less runoff, and the springs are more productive.”

Water Development from Climate + Energy Project on Vimeo.


Energy

While the Hubbards are cost-conscious about watering systems, their efficiency reaches to the energy side of the operations, as well. Year round grazing eliminates the energy-intensive and costly practice of haymaking. The Hubbard’s wintering costs run well below half the state average. Cattle and horses graze year-round which equates to less energy to make and transport feed.

The Hubbards use stocker goats for brush control and hair sheep for companion grazing in pastures which saves energy on chemical use and impacts water quality. Between goats, sheep, and cattle, there are three grazing patterns. In a standard pasture with 100 cows, the goats and ewes can run in the same pasture as they all eat different plants.

Fencing is a critical part of any rotational grazing system. The internal fences at the Shannon Creek ranch are mostly solar-powered, two wire electric. Currently, there are five solar fencers running and one plug in. Number 10 in Alan Hubbard’s Ranch Philosophies is: "Be proactive in your community.” The solar fencers are just one example of this philosophy in practice. Alan explains,

We use American made fencers – 12 Volt, Solar Powered – they’re very handy, reliable fencers for us. We can buy these here in our local town. If we have an issue with them, we take them in. They’ll send them to Kansas City, fix them, and send them right back in three days. Number ten in my ranch philosophies is: ‘be proactive in your community.’ That’s a community product that we can buy right here.

Switching to June calving eliminated the need to power a calving barn. June calving uses less feed because there is ample grass for grazing in June as compared to the winter months. Less energy is required because you don’t need to heat a calving barn.

The Hubbards use their horses to move the cattle which saves fuel. The entire operation runs with just one 1974 year tractor, a skid steer, and two pickups. Generally, they use only three tanks of fuel a year with the tractor. The diesel consumption is 150 gallons a year which some farmers use in a single day. "The goal is to eliminate moving parts and tires,” Hubbard says.

The cows work for me, I don’t work for them. It is not my job as ranch manager to put up feed and hay and forage to feed a lazy cow. My job is to have her on the best possible forage any day of the year so she can harvest for herself.

About 10-15 years ago, one of the economists from KSU with Ag statistics reviewed three years of taxes and compared energy usage (fuel, fertilizer, chemical) to the average farmer. Shannon Creek Quarter Horses were in the lowest 5 percentile of energy use. Their wise management practices save water and energy in big ways!

Saves money.

Affordability is a primary concern for the Hubbard family because so many of the water and energy saving innovations are on rented land. Still, their outside-the-box thinking and willingness to put in a little sweat equity have made many positive impacts on the land and the entire surrounding ecosystem. Alan advises,

Grow slower, learn from your experience day to day and try to do things right more than wrong. Don’t do things fast that you do wrong but you’ve got to live with them because you’ve got too much invested in them.

Joseph offered an example of this concept in practice:

If you look at our fences, you can see what has worked for us and what hasn’t. Where you see a more permanent-type, two-wire fence . . . those are fences that have been there for 20 years or more. In these areas, we’ve realized that the fencing needs to be more permanent. What we are doing really works here. Once something like that is distinguished, you can go ahead and put in a permanent fence. There’s no point in investing all that time and money into areas where you might not really need it.

Progress

The Hubbard’s land management style works with the land and the surrounding community with a holistic approach. Pete Ferrell, 2013 WEP Award Winner, nominated Alan for the 2014 awards. Pete explains,

I doubt that there is any box that could contain Alan Hubbard. ‘Outside the box’ may have been coined just for him. His innovative approach to ranching has been in inspiration to the sustainable crowd for many years. Well done, Mr. Hubbard!

As with most of our Water + Energy Progress Award winners, the Hubbard’s are open-minded innovators. As Joseph says,

We’ve never been closed minded. . . It’s not like we’ve ever sat down and said, ‘all right, now we know everything.’ Every year we learn something new or try something different.

Alan agrees, "One of the things I’ve always said is the day you quit learning is the day they plant you.” The learning and experimentation on the ranch is guided by 12 ranch philosophies.

Ranch philosophies

1. Take care of the grass and/or land and it will take care of you.

2. Cows work for us. We don’t work for them.

3. Always breed and develop cattle that fit your own environment. Never try to change the environment to fit the cattle you want or have.

4. Always try to make all impacts positive.

5. Eliminate as many moving parts and tires as possible.

6. Always deal in a win-win situation on all business ventures.

7. It’s better to do nothing for nothing than something for nothing.

8. When diversifying, be sure that the parts complement each other.

9. Always keep the deadwood trimmed!

10. Be proactive in your community.

11. Holistically minded, sustainably driven and profit oriented.

12. Last but not least, enjoy what you are doing.

Visiting with Alan and Joseph Hubbard reflects that these philosophies are not just words on paper, they are integrated into the operation at every level. The Hubbards are a prime example of good stewardship, strong family ties, and long-range visions. As Alan explained,

Decisions should be comfortable to your lifestyle and your family. Activities should be sustainable over many years so future generations can do the same thing.

Video: Rotational grazing practices on the Hubbard ranch

Rotational Grazing Practices on the Hubbard ranch

Video: Alan & Joseph Hubbard discuss Fencing

Video: Water developments on the Hubbard ranch

Water Developments
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