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Douglas County

‘The cattle thrive, the land thrives’ — a win-win for all

Rangeland grazing project restores grasslands the old-fashioned way

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Parks and recreation crews usually drive lawn mowers or pickups, but Bob Welch, charged with restoring the grassland at Greenland and Spruce Mountain open spaces south of Larkspur has a more leisurely ride — his horse, “44.”

“Rather than a degradation or a loss of the resource, we’re going to restore and maintain that resource as it was originally created,” Welch said.

Owner of Welch Brothers Cattle LLC in Franktown, Welch has been working with the Douglas County Open Space department since 2012 in its grazing rangeland restoration project.

Welch’s two herds, totaling nearly 650 cows, each occupy one of 11 areas for a period of 14 or 15 days. Then they’re moved to the next 200-acre pasture. The high-intensity, short-duration grazing mimics the habits of herds of bison that roamed the area long ago.

The cows eat noxious weeds and invasive plants, their cloven hoofs aerate the soil and their droppings provide all-natural fertilizer.

“The idea came from a need to find a better way to manage natural resources,” said Scott McEldowney, Douglas County’s assistant director of open space and natural resources. “The bottom line is to help ensure continued existence of high-quality wildlife habitat, thriving vegetation and healthy soil while reducing noxious weeds … The cattle thrive, the land thrives, and it’s a win-win.”

Now halfway through his 10-year lease with the county,Welch says the system he and McEldowney implemented is running smoothly. Maintenance is limited, consisting primarily of moving the solar-powered electric fence charger, cleaning filters at watering tanks and transferring cattle between pastures on horseback with his wife Kristen and often with his son, Tate, 13, and daughter, Allie, 10.

McEldowney said public feedback he has received is overwhelmingly positive, and people call his office just to ask where the herds are so they can see them. Welch enjoys public involvement as well, especially now that visitors know to close the gates behind them.

“As far as the rangeland and the cattle go,” Welch said, “I really think we’ve found our groove.”

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