SARE Western: Frank Bohman
Treading Lightly S
aves Rancher/Farmer from Losing Livelyhood and More

By David Mudd

Farm at a Glance

Frank Bohman
Morgan, Utah

Summary of Operation
160 Hereford cow/calf beef herd, grazed on 2,000 acres with management-intensive grazing techniques

Problems Addressed
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 way.

Low profits. 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 year.

Excerpted from:

The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural Innovation

By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission. Pp. 122 to 124

For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer

To contact SARE:
Phone (301) 504-6425
Fax (301) 504-5207

Letting the land do its part: Management-intensive grazing lets Mother Nature rest and replenish leading to more natural resources and less artificial input.
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 grasses.

“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,” Bohman says.

Focal Point of Operation – Range management
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 winter feeding.

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.

Environmental Benefits
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 water.

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 for days.

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.

Transition Advice
“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.

The Future
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.