"I had a small herd of cattle but finding adequate land to run them on was a challenge. This gives me an opportunity to partner with a well-established ranching family. It's a win-win for everyone"
Louis Martin, Brett Gray Ranch Manager
Louis Martin grew up in ranch country. And that’s the life he wanted for himself, for his wife Cathy and their two daughters.
That was their dream—to live on a ranch where they had an investment. They weren’t so sure that would ever come true.
Young ranching families are growing scarce on Colorado’s eastern plains, where the average rancher is 60. Many young people who grew up in struggling rural communities just don’t see a future for themselves here.
This year, Martin and his family got the opportunity they’d been looking for when they were selected to steward the 49,061-acre Brett Gray Ranch (formerly the Smith Ranch) in Lincoln County, about 75 minutes east of Colorado Springs.
Ranching Know-How Meets Prairie Conservation
The Martins manage the ranch’s livestock operations while handling the stewardship of the playa lakes and prairie grasses that support everything from pronghorn and mountain plovers, to spadefoot toads and native fish.
The project is a partnership between the Conservancy and the Colorado State Land Board—with significant help from a number of other agencies and organizations.
Under the plan, the Martins receive critical guidance and support from the Frasier family, longtime locals with more than 60 years of ranching experience in eastern Colorado.
It’s a model the Conservancy hopes to replicate in the coming years with dozens of families who seek to ranch on Colorado’s prairie and conserve wildlife habitat.
Colorado's Disappearing Ranchers
Keeping rural communities intact in the face of drought and development is a tall order. These days, land seems more valuable in pieces than in whole parts.
While a history of ranching has helped conserve large, intact grasslands during the past 150 years, young ranching families are scarce on eastern Colorado’s plains, where the ranching population is declining.
It’s often hard for beginner ranchers to find a large enough ranch to make a living on—with rising land costs, the capital to get started is often significant.
For Martin and his family, this partnership allows them to apprentice with experienced ranchers while also having the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and steward an established working landscape.