GrazeNebraska: Quality cattle and quality pastures go hand-in-hand on this Neb. ranch | TheFencePost.com

GrazeNebraska: Quality cattle and quality pastures go hand-in-hand on this Neb. ranch

Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition

Left to right, Sheila and Kris Luoma focus on raising quality cattle near Bartlett, Neb. While elite genetics are important to that effort, they say grazing management is also essential to the equation.

Bartlett, Neb. ranchers Kris and Sheila Luoma take pride in raising high quality cattle. They are especially focused on raising and marketing replacement females, and utilizing artificial insemination and embryo transfer to access elite genetics from Maine Anjou and Simmental sires for their commercial Angus cowherd.

But, this husband-wife team also recognizes that the cattle are only half of the equation contributing to a successful ranching operation. Proper grazing management accounts for the other part of their success.

Sheila said that rotational grazing has been important to many aspects of their ranch. "It's easier to monitor cattle health because we see them more often. The cattle are also used to being around people and being handled, so they have good dispositions," she said.

Regarding pastures, she said that rotational grazing has improved pasture utilization. And, they've been better able to weather drought years. "In 2012, we didn't have to sell any cows because our pastures were in good condition, and we were able to graze Conservation Reserve Program land," she said. The Luomas are able to rest their pastures and extend their grazing season by utilizing CRP land for grazing. Some is land they own; some is CRP land they graze that is owned by neighbors.

"We've noticed, and other CRP landowners comment, how much the plant diversity is improved once it has been grazed," Sheila said.

Caring for land and livestock has been a rewarding life path for Luoma. She grew up on a farm, showed cattle in 4-H, and attended college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Initially, she considered a career in teaching. "It was an era when not too many women were in agriculture," she said. But she followed her interests and first earned a degree in general agriculture, then later in range management. She landed a position with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service), and worked with Nebraska landowners teaching them about range management over the next 31 years — 17 of which were in the Burwell NRCS office. In 2011, Sheila retired — and began ranching with her husband, and doing business as a range consultant.

Recommended Stories For You

Throughout her NRCS career, Sheila always kept livestock with her brother and her dad near Spalding, Neb. Along the way, Sheila met her husband Kris, and today, she and Kris continue to run cattle with her brother George Valasek, whose farm is about 30 miles from the Luoma's. The majority of their herd calves from March through May. But Sheila and Kris also maintain a small herd that calves in August and September, which they utilize to raise ET (embryo transfer) calves for other people. Their feeder steer calves are marketed via video auction; their replacement females are primarily sold private treaty.

While she enjoys applying her range management and conservation knowledge to their own operation, Sheila also continues to share her skills with other landowners. As a certified range consultant through the Society for Range Management, she works with private landowners on their Conservation Stewardship Program contracts. She is also a board member for the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition. Of this organization, she values the opportunity to network with others and gain new perspectives. "I think it's important to get out and see new ideas, but it also gives you some appreciation for what you may have in your own operation," she said.

All total, Sheila encourages landowners to take time to recognize and understand the ecosystem. "Your management affects plant communities and the grass and livestock that are produced … it all goes hand-in-hand," she said. ❖

— Learn more about the conservation efforts of other landowners across Nebraska at http://www.nebraskagrazinglands.org.