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 way.
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.
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission. Pp.
122 to 124
For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer
To contact SARE:
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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 grasses.
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,” Bohman says.
Focal Point of Operation – Range
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
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
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
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
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 &
“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
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,”
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.