Pasture Land in South Dakota

Our family just returned from a wonderful long weekend in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We were attending a family wedding. We also used the time to see the wondrous sites, memorials and national parks that make that part of the country so beautiful.

If you have ever been to South Dakota, you know that when you reach the Missouri River there is a stark difference between the land on the east versus the west side. A couple thousand years ago, the glaciers known as the Wisconsin Drift slid across the upper Midwest and then stopped and melted to form the river. The land on the west side of the river was never touched by glaciers.

West River (as it is known in South Dakota) is full of contrasts, extremes and ruggedness. You will see miles of rolling plains, steep gullies, twisting rivers, dry grass expansions and of course the contrasts between the Badlands and the Black Hills National Forest.  West River’s soil, climate and topography are nothing like what makes up the land on our farm.

Grazing cattle and sheep is the main form of agriculture West River. While our farm is measured in hundreds of acres, farms in West River are measured in thousands of acres.  Due to its dry climate stocking populations (how many animals per acre) of pastures are far less than ours; hence the need for more land.

Just like we do on our farm, West River ranchers use grazing techniques to preserve pastures and grasslands. Proper management allows cattle, sheep, native grasses and wildlife to coexist while improving land quality.

A little known fact is that most cattle in the United States spend most of their days feeding on pastures, grasses and other forages. Cattle in Western South Dakota usually are born in what is known as a cow-calf operation. These operations consist of cows and their calves until the calves reach weaning age. After that, the calves are either sent to a yearling operation to be feed on pastures for a few more months or sent directly to feedlots. There are a few ranches that completely finish their cattle on grasses.

West River South Dakota is very beautiful. I recommend traveling there sometime in your life. If you think the days of ranchers and cattle round ups on horseback are dead, look again. The range land of western United States is full of hard working ranch families who manage this sometimes unforgiving land so that your family can enjoy a healthy beef hamburger.


PS We are currently taking pre-orders for chicken. If you would like your chicken pre-cut you need to pre-order. It is not necessary to pre-order whole chickens.

Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more,



Filed under farming, land use

2 responses to “Pasture Land in South Dakota

  1. I live just east of the Missouri River on the ND/SD border along the Missouri Plateau region. I know the land and cattle ranching life well. I think you have pointed out something superb in this Emily…on the grasslands majority of cattle spend a majority of their life eating grass on the range. People are seeing so many media messages about corn fed cattle that they are assuming they spend their entire life in a feedlot. I hope we can encourage more people to come see our land, cattle and prairie grasslands region.

    • zweberfarms

      Thanks Katie,
      While we were driving I was thinking of how many of these ranches are probably nearly “organic” in practice. It is an image you don’t see in the media.

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