Located in the heart of the United States in west central Nebraska lies a true anomaly, both geographically and culturally. This region, known as the Sandhills, represents the largest untouched grassland savanna in the western hemisphere.
For millions of years large land mammals migrated to this region, attracted by the abundance of water and the lure of native grasses rich in protein. Mastodons, woolly mammoths, and the American bison all lived and flourished in this pristine habitat.
The Sandhills is one of the largest contiguous and least-disturbed prairies in all of the United States. The sandy soil has made farming in the Sandhills nearly impossible, so much of the region has been left as virgin prairie. As settlers explored this region it was soon realized that the natural traits of this area were ideal for cattle production. Over time, this area has consistently produced the largest gains for cattle raised solely on natural grass than anywhere on earth.
Our health depends on what we eat, drink and breathe, and that is no less true for cattle –bulls, cows and calves. Three positive environmental conditions converge uniquely in the Sandhills prairie to produce the optimum conditions for raising healthy beef cattle: nutritious grasses, abundant clean water, and clean air.
The Sandhills is a mixed-grass prairie. The dry, sandy upland dunes in combination with the many wetland lakes and subsurface water contribute to substantial plant diversity. Sand-tolerant plants from short-grass, mixed-grass, and tallgrass varieties are found throughout the Sandhills. Millions of acres consist of sub-irrigated meadows and wetlands, and it is here that the best grasses for cattle foraging grow abundantly: red, white and yellow clover, timothy, BlueStem and Red Top. These perennial grasses grow naturally without fertilization, and are rich in vitamins and protein-building nutrients. They form the natural diet of Cowboy Beef cattle for their entire lives.
A recent research study found that cows that grazed on pasture containing 20% red clover produced 50% more cancer-fighting, weight-reducing CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) than cows that grazed on grass alone.1 Red clover grows in abundance in the moist regions of the Sandhills.
The Sandhills are naturally irrigated by the huge Ogallala aquifer located directly beneath this area. The sandy soil provides a natural filter, resulting in some of the purest water in the world.
All the water utilized on our ranch originates from the Ogallala aquifer. Where it’s not available in surface ponds and lakes, water is pumped to the surface by strategically placed windmills powered by the natural prairie winds.
The absence of intensive agriculture and industry on the Sandhills prairie means there are no man-made runoff chemicals, such as nitrates and hydrocarbons, to pollute the natural water.
An abundant source of clean water is essential for raising cattle. If cattle sense that water is scarce, polluted or tastes bad, they will reduce their food intake, become dehydrated and lose weight and muscle mass. This causes stress in the animals, and they can become aggressive and more difficult to handle. Their meat will be dry and tough. Calf mortality and morbidity will be higher. Adequate watering is a vital element in beef production. The Ogallala aquifer is a unique resource that not only ensures against drought conditions on our ranch, but provides the purest natural groundwater for our herd to drink.
Our Cowboy Beef herd grazes in the open prairie of the Sandhills, where the air quality is among the highest in the US. The accompanying chart shows a map of Air Quality Levels in Nebraska.
The Sandhills are located in the upper left part of the state, shown in green. Green represents the highest level of air quality measured by the EPA, followed by yellow and red. The Sandhills are hundreds of miles away from sources of urban air pollution (shown in red), and those sources are in the east whereas the prevailing prairie winds are from the west. On the Nebraska DEQ Air Quality Index scale of 0-100, the Sandhills region consistently has extremely high scores of 98-99.2 Our Black Angus cattle breathe this pristine air – air that you would like to breathe – all of their lives, and it contributes to their health and lower incidence of disease.
In contrast, beef cattle raised on enclosed pasture farms are exposed to poor quality air due to herd concentration, manure deposits and polluted standing water. The poor water and air quality of feedlots are legendary.
Cattle producers are constantly striving to develop the finest meat quality possible. It is a simple yet elusive recipe that is almost impossible to achieve. Succeeding in this formula requires the perfect combination of genetics, water, air, grass, and the handling of a herd. We believe his balance has been achieved and perfected at our ranch, enabling Cowboy Beef to offer the finest natural grass-fed beef on the market.
1. Z, Wu, L. D. Satter, and M. W. Pariza, “Paddocks containing red clover compared with all grass paddocks support high CLA levels in milk:, US Dairy Forage Research Center.
2. www.homefacts.com/airquality/Nebraska/cherry-county/Valentine.html, 2015