So, Alexander made it his mission to restore the native prairie and remove these invasive trees through a series of projects. With grants like the Private Stewardship Grant through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NRCS's EQIP program, Alexander was able to clear out trees in places where they had taken over. Now, hills and streams that were once overgrown with eastern red cedars are clear. "When I moved here, one of the streams was an intermittent stream, and in 1988, it didn't run at all," he says. "We got a grant to remove all of the trees we could off of the riparian area and have stream flow monitors installed along the stream. Today, it's still running water."
Restoring the native prairie
While tree removal has also improved grass growth, Alexander's use of rotational grazing has also allowed him to increase grazing capacity significantly. A custom grazer and follower of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold's principles, Alexander describes himself as a used sunlight salesman, as opposed to a rancher. Forages consume sunlight, and cattle consume forage. "The process is more important than content," he says. "The process here is converting sunlight into protein."
In 2010, before the drought hit in his region, he was custom grazing around 2,300 yearlings and 230 cow-calf pairs on his ranch and some of his neighbor's acres. "18 years of intense grazing management is why we're able to manage through this drought and not have a really high amount of stress on our range," he says. "Since I started this, before the drought hit in 2010, I increased the stocking rate by 100%."
This is thanks to rotating and giving the forage some rest. Alexander has worked closely with Stan Parsons and Dave Pratt from Ranching for Profit, consultants who help ranchers grow more grass and stock more cattle. With their help, Alexander formed a drought plan with "trigger dates" – critical dates to use as a reference for how much growth the grass should have depending on rainfall, which also helps determine stocking rates.