Winnett Ranching Family Honored with 2021 Montana Environmental Stewardship Award

ESAP Winners Chris and Gari King

HELENA, Mont. (June 14, 2021) – The Joe C King & Sons Ranch was honored as the 2021 Environmental Stewardship Award (ESAP) winners on June 10, at the Montana Stockgrowers Association’s MidYear Meeting in Lewistown, Montana. Each year, the ESAP award recognizes a Montana ranch that exemplifies environmental stewardship and demonstrates a commitment toward improved sustainability within the beef industry.

Joe C King & Sons Ranch is owned and operated by Chris & Gari King, their son, Jay King, and their daughter and son-in-law, Kylie and Mitch Thompson.

For the last 50 years, continuously improving grazing management has been a fundamental key in the ranch’s sustainability efforts. Joe King, Chris’s father, started those efforts in the 1970s when he sectioned off the ranch into five pastures to begin a rest-rotation grazing program.

“We have always felt that we saw significant improvements in our range quality that we attribute to our rotational grazing systems as opposed to season-long grazing in common that we had before,” said Chris.

Since 2018, Chris and his son, Jay, added an additional pasture and pivoted to a deferred grazing program. In a deferred grazing system, all six pastures are grazed in a year instead of four pastures per year in the rest-rotation system. This means cattle are able to spend less time in each pasture.

Implementing a thoughtful and managed grazing system that rotates animals on a regular frequency allows plants to develop deeper roots, recover from grazing faster, and ultimately produce far more grass over the course of the season. This means the soil can store more carbon, allow for water to seep into the soil, and prevent run-off.

The ranch also has a very active and healthy population of Sage Grouse that enjoy the sagebrush prairie habitat cattle grazing provides. The area is also home to pronghorn, deer, and various birds including songbirds, pheasants, sharp-tail grouse, hawks, eagles and other birds of prey.

“If those birds are traditional to this habitat and they disappear, then it would concern me and make me reevaluate what’s going on there,” said Chris. “But we do have a strong population of sage grouse here and we have identified a number of other birds that are species of concerns to other groups.”

The ranch’s deferred grazing and cover crop systems have improved the rangeland, improved soil health and even turned hardpan ground into an area that is beneficial to livestock and wildlife alike.

Since its inception in 1991, the Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) has honored ranchers across the United States who implement practices the positively impact their land, livestock, wildlife, water and the ecological landscape as a whole.

To learn more about the Montana Environmental Stewardship Award Program, please visit

Keni Reese
Director of Marketing & Communications
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