Women in Conservation Ranching-Montana and South Dakota | Montana Audubon

Montana Audubon

Montana Audubon works at the local, state and national policy levels to protect our natural heritage.

Women in Conservation Ranching-Montana and South Dakota

Rancher Name: Heather Bilden

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: Coulee Creek Ranch

Location: Lavina, MT

Website: https://couleecreekranch.com/

What is your favorite bird and why?
This is a tough question! It’s like asking me to pick my favorite color –my answer depends on my mood, my surroundings, and the season. In this moment, my favorite bird is the Common Redpoll. Large flocks of them have been descending on our yard every morning for the past few weeks. It is fascinating to watch them move in unison: landing, eating, and then taking off abruptly only to land again just a stone’s throw away. I love their bright red caps and the variety of reddish hues on the males’ chests (what the field guide aptly refers to as a “variable pink wash”). If you ask me in a month, I’ll likely say my favorite bird is the Sandhill Crane, which will be returning to Montana by mid-March. Their rattling calls will echo across the prairie for months and become part of the fabric of our daily lives. We have the pleasure of watching a pair raise their young in our pastures every year, and the transformation that occurs in just six short months is marvelous.

Credit: Emmie Sperandeo

What conservation projects are you working on right now?
This summer we are excited to begin a trial of multi-species grazing with our new flock of Icelandic sheep. About five years ago, we subdivided 4 large pastures into 14 smaller units. We now rotate our cattle more frequently to spread grazing pressure evenly across the landscape and incorporate periods of rest for each pasture. Cattle and sheep prefer different types of plants, and grazing them in succession can improve pasture quality, decrease weeds, and increase biodiversity. Raising sheep will also give us the opportunity to diversify our income stream and provide lamb and wool to our community.
Any advice for women looking to pursue a career in ranching?
It has been vital to me to find and nurture community. Living in rural areas can feel isolating. Our business is just my husband and myself, so we often go through our day-to-day lives without seeing other people. But even in our small community, there are always neighbors that we can call on to help us when we’re in a pinch, and to whom we are eager to lend a hand. I’ve also found a tremendously supportive community in the Women in Ranching program coordinated by the Western Landowners Alliance. Virtual calls, email conversations, and annual gatherings bring this group together. I have a network of knowledgeable, inspiring, and compassionate women ranchers with me wherever I go!
What’s your dream job?
I’m doing it! Being a rancher and selling beef directly to consumers is a dynamic job that keeps me on my toes. I love working outdoors –moving the herd, checking water tanks, and feeding with our team. Even fencing has its moments! I also love connecting with our customers at farmer’s markets and through weekly deliveries to Billings. People in Montana often have stories to share about growing up on ranches and working with horses. Or they may be new to it all and are curious to learn what it’s like to live on a ranch. I enjoy talking with people about the animals we raise, and the connection between healthy landscapes and nutritious food. I also love how our work on the ranch is deeply connected to the seasons. It is very grounding to have routines that we repeat in harmony with nature’s cycles.
Support Coulee Creek Ranch:
If you live in the Billings, Lavina, or Bozeman, you’re in luck! Coulee Creek Ranch will deliver your online order here, or you can visit a Billings Farmers Market near you during the summer months.


Rancher Name: Jeannie Franceus

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: Leone Valley Ranch

Location: Wessington Springs, SD

Website: https://dakota.audubon.org/conservation/leone-valley-ranch

Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/30-the-insights-of-an-involved-land-owner/id1437279982?i=1000551048789

What is your favorite bird and why?
Prairie Chickens are beautiful and fascinating birds that are native to this area. They are most notable for their elaborate and dramatic mating rituals. They have SO much going against them. My goal is to make their lives easier with good management practices.
What conservation projects are you working on right now?
I have sub-irrigated alfalfa that has been farmed or hayed for decades. For the past two years, I have grazed it rotationally, using cattle to build soil health. Grazing rather than haying gives nesting birds time to raise their young. Young birds can scoot out of the way of cattle much easier than they can a tractor/mower. Alfalfa weevils have been a problem for both of the past two years, but the alfalfa was able to recover, produce and thrive under managed grazing, without chemical intervention. There are thousands of beneficial insects for every harmful insect and surviving weevils without chemicals is a major victory for pollinators, as well as birds and other wildlife in the area.
Who has been your most influential woman mentor? Without a doubt, it would be my mom. She loved the outdoors, loved cattle and all creatures, and was committed to the value of conservation. Right behind that, to be an Audubon enthusiast, was my grandmother. One of my earliest memories is sitting by her at the window while she used her “1923 Bird Guide” to teach me to identify sparrows, blue jays, and robins outside the window. It was fascinating to me that such little things were so important to her.
If you had to live in a different state, what would it be?
I lived in Chicago, Illinois, for four years; Portland, Oregon, for nearly 30 years; Florida for five years, and Georgia for nearly a year. And I can say without a doubt, there is nowhere I would rather be than South Dakota.

Rancher Name: Kristi Patterson

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: P Bar Ranch | Cowgirl Meat Co

Location: McLeod, MT

Website: http://www.cowgirlmeatco.com/

What is your favorite bird and why?
The Sandhill Crane. They are beautiful, incredible call, and their link to prehistoric times is powerful. Their presence defines our mountain valley where the ranch is.
What conservation projects are you working on right now?
We have several interesting efforts. We’ve seen great success recently with our regenerative grazing and the improvement in soil health and habitat. However, one project that has been especially inspiring, is our work to strengthen our riparian zone for the future. It is critical habitat for a huge variety of birds and by putting in exclusion fencing, we are seeing hundreds of baby trees grow that would before have been eaten by the elk and deer. Creating this nursery to ensure a strong riparian zone as a present AND future refuge has been rewarding.
If you could enjoy a meal with any woman, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Over lunch, I would ask her about the obstacles she had to overcome as a pioneering woman in her field and whether she regretted the decision not to step aside and retire earlier.
Where is the worst smelling place you’ve been?
Three hours in the car with our dog after he got skunked. We stopped at a coffee shop on the way home and bought bags of ground coffee and just kept our noses buried in the bags.
Support P Bar Ranch:
Kristi and our next featured rancher Jaimie Stolzfus started Cowgirl Meat Co to sell the beef from P Bar Ranch. You can support both women from anywhere in the US by clicking here to place your order!

Rancher Name: Jaimie Stoltzfus

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: P Bar Ranch | Cowgirl Meat Co

Location: Montana

Website: http://www.cowgirlmeatco.com/

What is your favorite bird and why?
Robins-I love hearing them in the spring-full of hope and cheer!
What do you wish more people knew about conservation on your ranch?
We are very passionate about regenerative grazing and managing the ranch holistically. Not only does it help our land and soil, but it helps our wildlife and bird populations as well as produce nutrient-dense, grass-finished beef.
Any advice for women looking to pursue a career in ranching? Ranching is tough but very rewarding and I would encourage any woman looking to pursue ranching to go for it! The best way to learn is through experience so find a place that will teach and encourage you. Get connected in women ranching groups, if possible, to have a great community of support around you.
What’s your dream job?
I feel blessed to say ranching in Montana and raising my family here is a dream come true!
Support P Bar Ranch:
Support Jaimie and Kristi from anywhere in the US by clicking here to place your order!

Rancher Name: Cindy Tolle

Audubon Certified Bird Friendly Ranch: Evergreen Ranching

Location: Custer, SD

Website: https://evergreenranchingandlivestockllc.grazecart.com/store

What is your favorite bird and why?
Elegant Trogon… a beautiful bird that is very plentiful on our ranch in the Sierra Tarahumara of Northern Mexico. One of our ranches is in the Tutuaca Natural Protected Area for Flora and Fauna. These and Thick-billed Parrots are birds we see and hear quite often.
What’s been your biggest work-related conservation success?
I spearheaded the reintroduction of native bison back to the grasslands of Northern Mexico in 2009. This was a joint venture between the National Park Service in Mexico and the National Park Service in the US. These bison were relocated from Wind Cave National Park to Rancho El Uno in Janos Chihuahua in the Janos grasslands biosphere preserve. Today, this ranch is managed by Cuenca Los Ojos AC and the bison population is thriving, right along with populations of grassland birds.
Who’s been your most influential woman mentor?
I was on a mapping job once in Africa with the Smithsonian Human Origins project. I was honored to get to work a couple of weeks with Mary Leakey, the British Paleoanthropologist. Mary was very inspiring, a strong woman that knew exactly what she wanted and didn’t stop until she got there.
What’s your dream job?
Ranching. What I do… I love what I do. I get to raise very interesting, ecologically efficient animals on conservation land. When the animals are ready to become food, I make sure all parts of the animal are used. Hides go to Timberland to make boots; skulls go to artists to paint, bead, and sell; tallow goes to bird feeders, soaps and candles; meat goes to customers that need healthy protein sources; and the rest of the byproducts go to make pet foods. It just doesn’t get more fulfilling.
Support Evergreen Ranching:
In addition to serving people, Cindy also makes and sells dog food! You can support her on your plate and in your canine’s bowl. You’ll find Evergreen Ranching beef at retail stores, restaurants, hospitals, various pickup locations around Rapid City, and online anywhere in the U.S.

Montana Audubon depends on your financial support

New on Montana eBird: Studying the Effects of Mine-Waste Contamination on Songbirds

New on Montana eBird from our partners at the University of Montana Bird Ecology Lab (UMBEL)-…

Truman Creek Restoration Continues on Montana Better Beef Ranch

Last fall, Montana Audubon and Audubon-Certified Montana Better Beef Ranch, in Kila, MT, received a…

View All Articles

Join Our Online Network

By joining our online network, you will receive timely conservation updates, action alerts, legislative news, our monthly eNews, information about upcoming events and more.

Make an Online Donation & Support Our Efforts

Montana Audubon depends on your financial support to continue our ambitious conservation work around the state.

Take Action

Take action on timely conservation issues Montana Audubon is engaged with. Your help will protect Montana’s birds and other wildlife into the future.

Montana Audubon - © Copyright 2024 All Rights Reserved