San Isabel Ranch
By: Leopold Conservation Award Program
The San Isabel Ranch, located in Westcliffe, Colorado has a 135 year history of agriculture. The success of the ranch can largely be attributed to the late Dr. Ben Kettle and his wife, Bet. The operation is now run by the Kettles’ daughter, Sara Shields, and her husband, Mike, but Bet is still very much involved.
The ranch is an example of how economic success can exist alongside ecological sustainability. Ben and Bet Kettle understood the importance of this long ago.
“I find no controversy between good conservation practices and good ranch management,” Bet said. “No family ranch endures into the fourth generation without sustained conservation efforts. We take care of the land and the water. That care rewards us in business and in quality of life.”
The Shields place high value in adding natural materials back into the soil. Natural materials are added during winter feeding, and feed ground is chosen based on nutrient need of the soil and plant population. The accumulation of organic material allows the Shields to plow the land in the spring to nourish new plant life. They also use a rest/rotation method of grazing, which is timed to balance plant growth with livestock grazing.
The Shields’ water management practices include two projects in collaboration with the Natural Resource and Conservation Service. The first is a water delivery system that allows water to reach areas in need of irrigation. The other involves the creation of a drainage system to relieve a meadow of stagnant water.
Mike, Sara, and Bet are all heavily involved in several agricultural organizations within Colorado. In addition, Sara has lobbied legislative issues at the state and federal levels, while emphasizing agriculture’s importance to rural communities.
“One only has to look at the productive ranch where they live, the healthy ecosystem it thrives in to understand the importance of their place in this wonderful community and the worth of their contributions,” said Lynne Sherrod, Western Policy Manager, Land Trust Alliance.