Income from the 600 acres of restored grassland and wetlands on the Prairie Farm comes in a variety of forms: sale of native plant seed, hay, and forage for cattle. We anticipate additional income streams in the near future.
Two types of hay are cut, baled, and sold currently: summer-cut big bluestem hay sold to be fed directly to cattle and dormant season hay (a wide range of species) cut in the fall and sold to be ground and mixed with other materials (e.g., distiller’s grains) before feeding to cattle. Protein content of the summer hay ranges from 8-10 % with relative feed value (RFV) scores of about 75. Cattle gain well on the summer bluestem hay and find it highly palatable. In 2012, we sold 564 large round bales of hay to customers.
Native plant seed is currently an important source of income for the Prairie Farm. Two new varieties of native grasses (Prairie Farm wedgegrass and Prairie Farm cordgrass) are produced only on the Prairie Farm and marketed through Millborn Seed in Brookings (View Wedgegrass Profile / View Prairie Farm Cordgrass). The Prairie Farm also produces seed from switchgrass (NE 28, Summer, and Sunburst varieties) and a range of wetland plants, particularly sedges (smooth cone sedge, wooly sedge, and slough or wheat sedge). About 8,000 total pounds of Prairie Farm seed (switch grass, prairie cordgrass, and sedges) were marketed in 2012 through Millborn Seed Company.
A herd of 75 cattle arrived on the Prairie Farm in May, 2013. These Hereford x Angus crosses were born and raised their first year on the Mortenson Ranch near Eagle Butte in western South Dakota. The Ranch won the coveted Aldo Leopold Conservation award in 2011. The yearling heifers were raised their second year entirely on our grassland until being marketed as prairie-raised beef in late fall. We think that our beef may be unique by being raised largely on warm-seson native grasses like big bluestem, Indian grass, switch grass, and forbs (flowers) such as Canada milk vetch and purple prairie clover. These were many of the same plants that sustained the bison on the Great Plains for millennia. Look for details in local newspapers and our website blog to find out how to purchase our beef.
Future Income Sources
We anticipate additional sources of income from our grassland in the near future. These likely new sources include the sale of hay as cellulosic feedstock for biofuel (e.g., bio-oil); carbon credits as a form of climate protection; ecotourism (including field classes in prairie ecology); and fee hunting (large numbers of game birds are produced naturally, not stocked, on the Prairie Farm).