Bison ranch
(Photo: Courtesy of 777 Bison Ranch / Photographer Toby Brusseau)

On South Dakota’s rolling hills, the grazing pastures of the 777 Bison Ranch are thick with native grasses.

Hillenbrand: “We have three times the native plant biodiversity compared to some of our neighbors, so we’re pretty proud of what we’ve been accomplishing over the last 30-plus years now, with the bison and holistic management.”

Ranch owner Mimi Hillenbrand’s family once kept both cattle and bison, but they found that the bison were hardier and better suited to life in South Dakota. So they switched to raising only the native livestock.

They rotate the bison around their fields in a system that mimics the days when the animals roamed across the landscape.

While grazing, the bison add manure to the soil – fertilizing it. But then they are moved to another field.

Hillenbrand: “This allows the plants to recover. So by the time we come back to that pasture again, the plants have grown enough that we’re not putting any pressure on their roots. We’re not overgrazing.”

The approach also helps the climate. Like thriving forests, healthy grasslands soak up carbon pollution.

Hillenbrand: “It comes full circle. You’re not only taking care of the soil, the plants, the animals …”

… but helping take care of the environment, too.

Reporting credit: Ariel Felton/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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