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Success Stories Ranching with a Passion - Ted Alexander | Kansas

Ranching with a Passion
By Mary D. Shaffer, Public Affairs Specialist
NRCS, Salina, Kansas
November 2007

Ted Alexander.Ancora Imparo -(I am still learning) is the philosophy by which rancher Ted Alexander lives and works. He reminds his fellow ranchers and others that he doesn't have it all figured out, but he has the passion to push onward to improve.

Following that philosophy, Alexander recently hosted a tour on the Alexander Ranch sponsored by the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition. The purpose of the tour was to get input from ranchers, professionals, and others about managing and improving riparian areas on his ranch.

"We cleared all my hilltops of cedar trees resulting in water returning to the creeks. The forage resource is in excellent shape on those hilltops, and now I'm concentrating on the riparian areas to improve the habitat for multiple species.

"I hosted this tour to generate ideas and discussion from others to determine what might be some of the ways to improve riparian areas," says Alexander. The several thousand-acre ranch is in the heart of the Red Hills in western Barber County, in southcentral Kansas. For the past 23 years, Alexander has owned and operated the Alexander Ranch.

Stocker cattle are custom grazed during the spring and early summer. When beneficial to the management of the stockpiled forage, Alexander custom grazes cattle during the winter. His ranch is flourishing as a custom-grazing operation. However, this was not so when he began managing and operating the ranch in 1984. Alexander, who affectionately refers to his occupation as 'a used sunlight salesman,' will tell you that the ranch was an "undergrazed, under-watered, under-utilized, cedar forest ranch."

Tour to generate ideas and discussion from others to determine what might be some of the ways to improve riparian areas.Alexander's impressive enhancements include removal of invasive eastern red cedar trees, development of livestock water sources, improvement of forage productivity, and an increase in native plant and wildlife diversity. All of these enhancements and more were completed while accomplishing one overarching goal--maintaining a profitable and viable ranch business.

When Alexander returned to the Ranch in 1984, he began working with the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), staff at the Medicine Lodge Field Office. He credits them with helping him make his ranch what it is today. "NRCS and its educated staff of professionals provided me technical assistance then as they do today," says Alexander. "They come out, walk your land, and give you ideas; but you make the decisions. The choice is yours."

In the early days, the ranch had two Great Plains Conservation Program contracts, one on his mother's land and one on his. Alexander installed practices recommended by NRCS, such as cross fencing, ponds, and other water developments.

"These practices were put in over 20 years ago, but I have taken special care of them, and I expect they will make it to 30 years and maybe more," says Alexander.

In recent years out of necessity and for energy efficiency, Alexander has installed an extensive livestock-water system that uses solar energy since electric power lines do not cross the ranch. The solar-powered pumps carry water from a pond to a storage tank. The water then flows to tanks as needed. Solar energy also powers energizers for electric fences that set the grazing cell boundaries needed for his Management Intensive Grazing System.

"Then I decided to improve my watering facilities for the cattle," Alexander says, NRCS provided me with the engineering designs to accomplish that. Through an Environmental Quality Incentives Program contract, NRCS provided cost-share funding to install several miles of pipeline and watering tanks.

Although the structural practices are necessary for a profitable ranching operation, Alexander credits NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist Dwayne Rice with helping him develop a drought management plan.

"Drought-proof your ranch as thoroughly as possible before it quits raining," are the first words in Alexander's drought plan that he follows faithfully."

Grazing cattle in country that receives only 21 inches of moisture a year will work, but you need to prepare and have a drought plan when the moisture does not come.

Dwayne gave me four critical dates around which to develop my drought management plan," says Alexander. "Those dates provide guidelines to follow when it becomes necessary to start removing cattle so that your rangeland's health is not harmed."

 "To sum it up," says Alexander, "Conservation technical assistance provided by NRCS is by far the best."

The solar-powered pumps carry water from a pond to a storage tank.The Alexander Ranch's declaration of purpose is to manage all integrated resources in order to maximize the production of protein, shape a harmonious existence with nature, and maintain economic viability. Ted reads this everyday as it hangs prominently in his house.

One of Alexander's ranching neighbors, Chan Gates, describes Ted as an extraordinary rancher who has never been bound by traditional thinking when it comes to managing a ranch.

The lesser prairie chicken, Arkansas darter, and the red-spotted toad are some of the at-risk native species found on the ranch. Alexander works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks on management plans to protect and enhance wildlife. Biologists have documented over 150 species of plants and nearly 50 species of reptiles and amphibians on his Ranch.

Although Alexander is recognized for his stewardship and environmental practices on the Ranch, he is certainly appreciated for his eagerness to share his knowledge with others. With an educator's background and a love for the ranching business, Alexander never misses an opportunity to lead and teach! Whether by forming a group like the Comanche Pool Prairie Resources Foundation, by leading the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition, by serving his local soil and water conservation district board, and by giving many presentations on ranch management or mentoring young ranchers, Alexander demonstrates his leadership skills and shares his vast knowledge. 

Ted unselfishly and enthusiastically shares his experiences and knowledge with others, especially young ranchers," says Kent Jarnagin, rancher and president, Comanche Pool Prairie Resources Foundation. "He has a passion for sharing, teaching, and mentoring."

Over the years, Alexander has received various local and state conservation awards. However, in the summer of 2007, the National Cattleman's Beef Association recognized Alexander's efforts by presenting him the Regional Environmental Stewardship Award. NRCS is also a sponsor of this prestigious award.

Ted is a friend, ecologist, and rancher that you tell other producers about," says Kansas NRCS State Range Conservationist David Kraft.