Over the past three summers working at Ward Laboratories Inc., I have enjoyed the opportunity to spend time in the Nebraska Sandhills. The Sandhills are a little known hidden gem in the state of Nebraska, large expanses of rolling hills covered in prairie grasses, wildflowers and shrubs, intermingled with naturally occurring wetland areas housing birds and other wildlife. Driving through the Sandhills taking in the many sunflowers, native grasses and cattle grazing, one can’t help but appreciate it as God’s country. I have attended various events in the Sandhills including the Gudmundsen Laboratory Open House, Sandhills Cattlemen Association meetings, the Sandhills Ranch Expo, and other extension events.
From frequenting the rest area between Taylor and Rose, Nebraska, I have learned that the Sandhills were first settled by farmers from the eastern United States. The sandy soils, void of nutrient dense topsoil made farming a futile effort. With no luck in growing traditional row crops and gardens, those early settlers gave up cultivating the land and turned to grazing livestock for their survival and livelihood.
The Sandhills are a relatively untouched expanse of range land with hundreds of different species of native grasses and wild flowers. Beef cattle graze these forages acquiring key nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, and fat from the various plants available for them to choose from. Both the people and livestock of the Sandhills are uniquely acclimated to the harsh winter conditions and hot summer temperatures. Residing in the Sandhills is not for the faint of heart, but it is worth it to those who appreciate the natural beauty and freedom of the grassy hillsides and ever stretching skies. The expansive prairie sits on the Ogallala Aquifer. Windmills providing water to livestock are a common sight against the landscape.
The Sandhills are largest untouched prairie in the United States spanning 20,000 square miles of northern Nebraska. The area is a great example of how grazing animals can be used to convert otherwise inedible plants into a wholesome meat product. In the Sandhills, livestock and wildlife coexist sustainably making the Sandhills a well utilized natural resource. The Sandhills are home to many species of birds, small and large mammals and even turtles!