Each year, the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) honors a Montana ranch that exemplifies environmental stewardship and demonstrates a commitment toward improved sustainability within the beef industry. The Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) recognizes Montana ranchers who are at the forefront in conservation and stewardship and are willing to serve as examples for other ranchers.
During MSGA’s Mid-Year meeting in Lewistown last week, a Petroleum County ranch family was recognized with the ESAP honor.
The 2021 winner was the Joe C King & Sons Ranch of Winnett. The Black Angus cow/calf operation is owned and operated by Chris & Gari King, their son, Jay King, and their daughter and son-in-law, Kylie and Mitch Thompson.
“It's certainly an honor and very humbling to be recognized by your peers,” said Chris King.
The Joe C King & Sons Ranch is located just southwest of Winnett. The ranch includes approximately 21,000 total acres. Around 14,500 acres are owned, and 6,500 acres are leased. Most of the leased acres are part of the Montana/Dakotas Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands. About 1,000 acres are state lands, and 400 – 500 included in private leases.
“Obviously it's the natural resources that we survive on,” King explained. “So, if you're going to be sustainable, those natural resources have to thrive because without the grass, we don't thrive. When the grass and the habitat, when it thrives, not only do we thrive, but the wildlife thrives. The whole picture kind of comes together.”
Montana Stockgrowers Executive Vice President Jay Bodner wrote, “The King Family has continued the strong traditions of the Joe C King Sons Ranch by becoming an ever-evolving enterprise, willing to learn and adjust as the years pass. They began their sustainability efforts more than 50 years ago when Joe King, Chris’s father, approached the BLM to request a switch to rest-rotation grazing. Chris and his son Jay have now implemented a deferred grazing system that they believe will benefit the landscape, cattle, wildlife and more.”
King believes ranch families should share their sustainability story with consumers.
“I think that's really important because not everybody views ranching as an environmentally friendly activity, when really it is,” said King. “More and more people on ranches are our understanding that and moving in that direction.”
Chris King also emphasized that ranchers must also continue to learn and seek educational opportunities themselves.
“It's important to always continue educating yourself,” King said. “Our ideas of what was best practices forty years ago, maybe aren't today. So, I encourage everyone to attend workshops. Soil health workshops, grazing management workshops. When you know more things than you need to implement that and try to move always in the direction of best practices.”
Joe C King & Sons Ranch will now be in the running for the 2021 National Environmental Stewardship Award Program top honor. In order to make it to the national stage, the King family and three other ranch families from Region 5 (Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado) will be evaluated by a diverse, expert panel. The panel will then nominate one ranch to continue to the final round of judging for the national honor.
To learn more on the Montana ESAP program click here.