Today was the day that many of our students had been looking forward to from the outset of the field school. We were going to visit the Ranney Ranch, a grassfed beef operation to the southeast of Corona that practices holistic rangeland management techniques. As we headed northeast out of Las Cruces to Corona, we passed through the sparkling White Sands National Monument, drove by the verdant Sacramento Mountains and finally reached the more arid Gallinas Mountains. Nancy Ranney, one of the ranch owners, met us at the entrance to the ranch and led us up the dirt road to the headquarters where we were offered drinks and snacks. After introductions to Sara Ranney (Nancy’s niece) and Melvin Johnson (the ranch manager for 27 years), we settled in to learn about the ranch’s history.
In 1968, George Ranney bought two adjoining properties that became the Ranney Ranch. Upon his death in 2002, he left the ranch as a family partnership to his four children and their spouses and his ten grandchildren. At that point in time, Nancy and Melvin began seriously looking into holistic management practices, in order to improve the ecological condition of the rangeland. They decided to combine the 21 separate herds of cattle that were once dispersed across the ranch into one, and move the larger herd on a planned rotational grazing basis in order to give the 18,000 acres of land ample time to recover and the vegetation regenerate. Originally the ranch had been dominated by a blue grama grass monoculture; within three years of practicing rotational grazing, over 25 species of native perennial cool and warm season grasses and legumes had returned. At the same time the ranch was seeing increased biodiversity and soil organic matter, it decreased its fuel costs associated with checking on the herd by 50% and feed costs by 60%.
The ranch sold its first range-raised, humanely handled, grassfed beef in 2004. Now most customers come to Nancy via the internet or through word of mouth. Calves are 100% grassfed; they have never been given any grains, hormones or antibiotics, and their meat is low in fat and cholesterol and high in vitamin E, beta-carotene, antioxidants and heart-healthy fatty acids. Each fall, beeves are sold to customers and humanely slaughtered and dry aged by the Mennonite-run Fort Sumner Processing Facility.
Recently, Ranney Ranch has made a foray into alternative energy. On a smaller scale, they have replaced several older windmills at watering troughs with efficient solar powered pumps. On a larger scale – and in conjunction with the Southern Corona Landowners’ Association – the ranch has signed a contract with FirstWind, a wind power company out of Boston, to install turbines and transmission infrastructure on their property. Although Nancy knows that this decision will negatively impact the land in a number of ways, she is hopeful that the revenue generated from the lease will allow the ranch to be more profitable. This move may also help convince other landowners in the area to move toward a more sustainable future by investing in renewable energy.
After the in-depth overview of the ranch, we loaded into pickups and headed overland across bumpy dirt roads to get a sense of the ranch’s scale. We stopped at a number of water tanks to see the cattle and horses. We also explored an ancestral Puebloan ruin and searched for potsherds. The highlight of the day was a lunch of home-made Ranney Ranch brisket sandwiches in a shaded side canyon, and an afternoon adventure into a cave with a freshwater spring seeping out of the sandstone wall. At the end of the day we were physically exhausted, but mentally invigorated. We had seen a progressive, sustainable model of ranching that really seemed to work! The excitement among the students was palpable, and dissipated little as we pulled into Roswell that evening.