First Home on the Range teaches youth about range management |

First Home on the Range teaches youth about range management

Kim Dolatta, range specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, right, shows Becca Reece, left, and Baxter Reece what intermediate wheat grass looks like.
Photo by Teresa Clark |

The first annual Home on the Range workshop competition in Chadron, Neb., taught children how to identify range plants and how those plants fit into a grazing system.

The participants also had a chance to learn how to mount their own plants, and judge in a range management contest July 12 at Chadron State College Rangeland Complex.

“The Home on the Range, plant identification, collection and range judging contest was started in 2017 as a replacement for the annual horticulture and tree identification contest,” according to University of Nebraska Dawes County Extension educator Terri Lemmon. “This educational activity not only is more appropriate for our area, but provides youth an opportunity to increase their knowledge of range plants and their value for livestock forage purposes.”

Kim Dolatta, range program manager with the U.S. Forest Service, pointed out different plants, and explained what they were and how they worked in the range management system.

“Kim was integral to this program, assisting me with setting up the contest prior to the event,” Lemmon said. “She did an outstanding job in the morning helping our participants identify range plants.”

Dolatta said proper management of plants and grazing pasture affects the development of plants.

“Proper grazing of plants like needle and thread grass impacts root growth,” she said.

She also explained the different ways to identify plants that would help them during a contest.

For example, she said Prairie June Grass has a head that resembles a pipe cleaner, and Prairie Sand Reed has a fringe of hairs outside the leaf and sharp points at the root.

At one point, she told FFA instructor Lori Walla, from Alliance, Neb., and her student, Ashlyn Glass, how a purple cone flower has medicinal properties.

“It has Novocaine in it that will make your mouth go numb when you chew on it,” she told them.

Jack Arterburn, an extension educator in the northern Panhandle, taught the youth how to collect range plants, then showed them how to press the plant to preserve it.

Several youth indicated this knowledge was valuable for learning how to make their own range management plant book. One tip Arterburn had was for students to buy or make their own plant press.

“You can make it from slats, but make sure it has air movement so the plants dry correctly,” he said.

Heavy paper like card stock can be used to lay the plants out flat.

“Make sure you can see the entire plant, and especially the characteristics that will help you identify it,” he said.

He encouraged the children to label the plant with the correct name when making range books, so they can refer to it later.

“When you glue the plant onto the paper, leave room at the bottom for a label,” he said. “Then use some weights like big washers to weigh the plant down.”

Students also can use something like clear contact paper to cover the paper to help preserve the plant when making a book, one of the participants suggested.

During the event, Anthony Perlinski, assistant professor of applied sciences at Chadron State, staked plants and helped students with any questions they had.

“We were thankful to him for partnering with Nebraska Extension for this event and allowing us to use the facilities free of charge,” Lemmon said. “Therefore, we did not have to charge youth a fee to attend.”

Other helpers throughout the day were:

» Aaron Field, assistant professor of applied sciences at Chadron State, who assisted with plant selection for the contest.

» Laure Sinn, rangeland program coordinator at Chadron State, assisted with the day’s activities, gave a tour of the new rangeland facilities at the college and provided free items she collected.

» Clint Phillips, range management specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, helped organize and develop the contest for the youth to learn new agricultural skills.

“He is our Dawes County 4-H council president, and the reason this contest was initiated,” Lemmon said of Phillips.

Lemmon is hopeful the contest will become an annual event for youth to learn range judging skills and practice for contests.

“In the future, we hope to add more information on the historical significance of plants, as well as do a beginner/novice workshop and contest and an advanced workshop/contest,” she said. “Overall, this event was more impactful to the overall educational experience for the youth, which is the goal of 4-H and something we evaluate after every activity or contest.” ❖

— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at


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