GrazeNebraska: Terrell Farms manages natural resources in Nebraska Panhandle
President Theodore Roosevelt is credited with saying, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” In western Nebraska, Vern and Marjean Terrell and their family are applying that philosophy on their crop, cattle and sheep operation.
To address conservation of their natural resources, the Terrell’s have installed cross fencing and water developments to implement rotational grazing; they use minimal and no-till planting to reduce erosion risk; and they utilize cover crops to promote soil health.
In total, Vern Terrell said, “We strive to be conservationists.” He said that taking care of the land has been important to better utilize their resources and to ensure their farm is sustainable for generations to come. The farm was established in January 1948 by his father, a World War II veteran who began with an 80-acre unit offered to veterans at that time as part of the Mirage Flats Irrigation Project through the Bureau of Reclamation.
Located south of Hay Springs, Neb., on the western edge of the Sandhills, Terrell Farms operates on land that straddles the Niobrara River with irrigated farm ground on the north side of the river and native rangeland on the south side of the river. The operation includes Vern and his wife Marjean, their son Brock and his wife Heidi, and several farm/ranch employees, who Vern said “are greatly appreciated.” The Terrells own and lease land for the large operation which includes cow/calf, stockers, feeders and sheep, along with irrigated farmground.
For the past 20 years, the Terrell family has been exploring conservation practices to enhance their farm and ranch. Vern credits the concepts they’ve implemented to his sons going to college and bringing home new experiences, as well as involvement in the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, of which he now serves as vice chairman. Brock also serves on the NGLC board of directors.
Of NGLC Vern said, “The organization has a great bunch of like-minded producers who are doing a good job with conservation and willing to share ideas. I learn something at every meeting.”
Today, stewardship practices implemented on Terrell Farms have helped increase health of the ecosystem and decrease cost of production, the family said. One specific effort they’ve focused on has been implementing rotational grazing by installing cross-fencing and water developments — they presently have 94 different pastures and 118 improved water sites. What’s even more surprising is that many of these improvements have been on leased pastures.
Vern said, “We’ve worked with landowners to add water and fencing and get pastures to a manageable size. It’s helped to utilize the grass better, and it’s increased carrying capacities on that land.” He estimated that in many instances they’ve increased carrying capacity by 50 percent, which means the resource is better managed, and ultimately more beef or lamb is being produced to feed the world. Cows often rotate through the pastures, and then are followed by a flock of sheep grazing in the pasture.
The Terrell’s have transitioned to calving their commercial cowherd on pastures in May to minimize health/disease issues. Weaned calves may be sold in the fall, kept for backgrounding or run as stockers. “We spread out our marketing options depending on the forage and feed resources available,” Terrell said.
The Terrell family is also working to integrate their livestock into their farming enterprise. Cover crops are planted to promote soil health, and offer extra forage to graze during the fall and winter, which adds manure nutrients to the fields and provides an opportunity to rest native grass pastures.
Recently, the Terrell family has established a grass-legume pasture on one of their irrigated fields. Vern explains that this provides additional supplemental forage for the cowherd during drought or winter grazing. The pasture is a mix of legumes and wheat grasses, and though they are only in the second year of trying this pasture, Vern said, “I think irrigated grass pastures will become more popular.”
Throughout their conservation journey, the Terrells have worked with many partners to enhance the stewardship on their western Nebraska operation. They credit the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Nebraska Extension and World Wildlife Fund for assisting with various efforts.
On June 15, 2018, fellow landowners and the public are invited to learn more about Terrell Farms during a one-day summer grazing tour, which will feature the Flying Heart Ranch and Terrell Farms both located in the Nebraska Panhandle. Learn more about the tour and pre-register by calling the Sheridan County Extension office (308) 327-2312 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition at http://www.nebraskagrazinglands.org.❖