at a Glance
Summary of Operation
• 160 Hereford cow/calf
beef herd, grazed on 2,000 acres with management-intensive
Poor range management.
From his high desert acres east
of Salt Lake, Frank Bohman could see the end of
western ranching. His pastures had been reduced
to sagebrush, scrub oak and dust by generations
of free-ranging cattle and sheep. Erosion was
severe, many of the springs he recalled from his
childhood had disappeared, and wildlife appeared
to be in rapid decline. “It broke my heart
to see the land in such shape,” Bohman says.
That was in the early 1950s. Bohman already had
been managing the family ranch nearly 20 years
by then, but only after he bought into 6,000 acres
of high rangeland with two neighbors did he begin
to understand the scope of the degradation the
land had suffered. Bohman was certain he wouldn’t
be able to continue for another 20 years that
Beneath the aesthetic concerns lay some basic
business considerations: Those 6,000 acres were
barely supporting 300 cattle, and only from late
May to early September. By then they’d be
“beating the fence lines,” Bohman
recalled, and need to be led to lower pastures
and fed with hay and grain for more than half
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission.
Pp. 122 to 124
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Bohman’s partners sold
out before 1955, leaving him the owner of a little more than
2,000 of the original 6,000 acres, in addition to the 2,000
original ranch acres he held lower down the valley. Bohman determined
to restore the range to the condition it was in when the settlers
arrived and decided to reintroduce the native, drought-resistant
the land do its part: Management-intensive
grazing lets Mother Nature rest and replenish leading
to more natural resources and less artificial input.
“I read stories when I was a kid about the first settlers
coming to Utah and finding grasses up to the horses’ stirrups
and clear-running streams,” Bohman says. “It wasn’t
like that anymore.”
Bohman lives alone on the ranch he inherited from his parents.
Although his brother helped manage the ranch after his father
died — when both were still in their teens — he
moved to California before World War II. Bohman’s sisters
still live in the Morgan area, but not on the ranch.
Bohman’s father worked himself and the land hard. He operated
a general store, and on the ranch — in the standard practice
of the time and place — he ran sheep and cattle in huge
open pastures, up in the mountain meadows for the summer, and
down in the low country in the winter.
The practices worked for a time, but without intensive management,
the constant grazing took a drastic toll on native grasses,
available water and the soil. Even in his early twenties, Bohman
sensed his land, and western livestock ranching in general,
were locked into a downward spiral. Despite the responsibilities
he shouldered at age 12 after his father died, Bohman completed
high school and was an avid reader of history. Soon he added
natural history, meteorology and biology to his bookshelves.
“That helped give me an idea of just how much the land
had changed in a very short time because of bad grazing management,”
Focal Point of Operation –
Bohman still runs about as many cows and calves as the ranch
has traditionally carried. He no longer raises sheep because
the return of wildlife over the years has also led to the
return of coyotes, and they take too many of the lambs.
The cattle graze intensively on the lowland pastures in early
spring, and are then moved to the upland ranges as soon as
the snows have melted, which is usually in mid- to late April.
They’ll stay up there until the snows threaten again
in late fall, while the pastures and irrigated cropland below
produce mixed-grass hay, alfalfa, and short grasses for the
Bohman has installed more than 14 miles of fencing in his
highland ranges alone, creating nearly a dozen paddocks. “If
they’re working a stand too hard, I’ll move them
along to the next pretty quickly,” he says.
Age does not seem to be a factor in Bohman’s management
style. Until five years ago, when he broke a hip, he checked
fence line and rounded up stray calves each day on horseback.
In his early 80s, Bohman still patrols his acres practically
every day, but now behind the wheel of a jeep.
Economics and Profitability
Even accounting for inflation, Bohman says he has spent only
20 to 30 cents per acre to reclaim his rangelands. Starting
in the mid-1950s, when he started his restoration work, he
burned the sagebrush and scrub timber, or removed them with
synthetic herbicides — a practice he abandoned as soon
as he felt he had controlled their advance.
He then re-seeded — by hand and sometimes from an airplane
— grasses native to the area, including amur and wheatgrass,
with alternating rows of alfalfa to help add nitrogen to the
soil. He has used no fertilizers other than the ash from the
controlled burns, and the manure from the sheep and cattle
soon grazing on the new grasses.
As planned, the grasses returned. “Before” and
“after” photos of his pastures show lush fields
where shrub and sparse tufts of grass once competed for decreasing
levels of water and nutrients.
The return of fertility has led to an increase in both the
availability and the nutritional value of grasses —
which translate to concrete economic benefits. Bohman’s
cows gain weight on fewer acres than they needed previously.
Bohman also extended the amount of time his cattle can feed
on the upland pastures from a little more than three months
to six or more, depending on when the snows come. That extra
time affords him greater ability to grow and harvest winter
silage in his lower fields.
All told, the efforts to return and maintain the native grasses
and to manage his herd’s grazing on those pastures has
allowed him to reduce his winter feed bills. On average, he
feeds each cow about 600 pounds of hay per month for the six
winter months, shooting for a market weight of around 3,600
pounds. By keeping his cows on the range an extra two months,
he saves about $90 a ton, he says.
He sells his calves to a commercial feedlot each fall, about
seven months after spring calving. In 2000, he received 90
cents a pound for the yearlings.
Bohman’s reclamation efforts have not gone unnoticed
or uncelebrated. He has won more than $10,000 in awards from
conservation and environmental organizations.
The ranch’s renewed ability to hold water may be the
single most important environmental improvement resulting
from Bohman’s life vision. He recalls being down to
four unreliable springs back in the early 1950s, with sheet
erosion and gullies causing a rapid loss of precious water
as well as soil. Bohman said his reading, and consultations
with the Soil Conservation Service — now the Natural
Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) — also suggested
the encroaching sagebrush was sucking up large amounts of
Bohman counts no fewer than 22 “seeps” now, and
he has created watering holes or ponds at each of them. Beavers
have moved in, and their work along a particular line of seeps
is contributing to the creation of a wetland Bohman is happy
to see. He even has enough water now to feed a five-acre pond
he stocks with trout for nearby streams.
With water and forage plentiful, not just beavers have taken
up residence on the ranch. Bohman lists moose, elk, fox, Canada
geese, herons, wild hens and ducks as frequent visitors. In
addition, he has gained a reputation as an enthusiastic and
caring feeder of deer in the winter months, and dozens are
happy to take him up on it, congregating around his house
The grasses have helped return a balance of nutrients and
minerals to his soil, which make for healthier cattle, and
Bohman has found no need to use synthetics of any kind —
fertilizer, pesticide or fungicide — for years.
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
Frank Bohman’s ancestors were western pioneers, and
he has become one himself. They helped settle the West while
he’s helping to reclaim it, and he’s enjoying
the plaudits and the opportunities for teaching others that
go along with the attention he has received in recent years.
Bohman has been interviewed and written about in dozens of
publications, asked to speak at national and international
conferences, and played host to everyone from governors to
Boy Scouts who have come to see his restored rangeland. Bohman
cultivates this interest by making the ranch available for
group picnics, ecological training groups, university agriculture
departments and soil conservation field trips.
He also has applied the expertise he gained from his reclamation
work as chair of the Utah Association of Conservation Districts,
a 35-year board member for his local Soil Conservation District,
chair of his county’s planning and zoning board and
a county commissioner.
Bohman also received the Earl A. Childes award from Oregon’s
High Desert Museum for his restoration efforts, and a “Best
of the Best” award from the National Endowment for Soil
& Water Conservation.
“The best thing I can tell anyone who wants to do what
I did is: Inventory all your resources,” Bohman says.
“Take a close look at everything you’ve got working
for you, and then create a plan that lets those strengths
do a lot of the work for you.”
He illustrates his point by mentioning the controlled burns
he used to eradicate unwanted brush from his rangeland, knowing
that the ash would provide good fertilizer for the grass seeds
he then sowed.
“See how you can use what you have to get where you
want to go, and don’t be afraid to get help from the
right organizations,” he adds.
At his age, Bohman admits to being preoccupied with what will
happen to his work after he dies. He says he has commitments
from the nephews who will take control of the ranch that they
will preserve his efforts, and continue to manage it as a
working cattle operation, following the practices he has established.