Published Jul 30, 2015

Field Day Recap: DeCook Ranch: Managing Prairie with Bison and Fire

By Liz Kolbe

Roads washed out and the sun beat down with 100% humidity, but 65 field day attendees braved the conditions to learn about how the DeCook family (and friends) use ecological and agricultural knowledge to foster a diverse system of prairies where they graze bison and cattle.

Mike DeCook operates DeCook Ranch with help from his brother, Dan, support from his parents, Mark and Kay, and friends, wildlife biologist Pete Eyheralde and wildlife photographer Ron Huelse. Four years ago they sold their cattle and started grazing bison. Though they still custom graze cattle for other farmers, bison fit better with their management style and re-wilding goals for the land. The DeCooks harvest seed from their remnant prairie and with help from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, are clearing overgrown woods and interseeding their cool-season pasture with native prairie species.

They are fighting invasive species, including Canada thistle, teasel, multiflora rose, autumn olive, and honeysuckle, but except for the occasional spot treatment, they manage their prairies and pastures without herbicides and pesticides. Bison are harvested in the pasture for meat, and currently the market provides ~$4.20/lb (hot carcass weight).

Brief audio from the event:

Mike discusses mob grazing with cattle vs. bison grazing:

Mike explains interseeding prairie species into cool season pasture:

Mike on transitioning from cattle to bison: