Three Pillars Are Musts for Sustainability

Preserve. Conserve. Improve.

Logan Pribbeno regularly checks the native grass stands in pastures that cattle graze on their Nebraska operation. (Joel Reichenberger)

As he strolls through the pastures, boots parting the grasses as he walks, Logan Pribbeno can hear his father saying: "You're just renting a piece of land in eternal things. Try to leave it better than you found it." And, true to that admonition, nearly every management decision the Pribbenos make on the family's Wine Glass Ranch is aimed at preserving, conserving and improving the condition of the land they steward.

That's a big task for a ranch that is spread out over 18,000 acres of native pasture and incorporates an intensive-grazing system near Imperial, Nebraska. The 130-year-old family operation's catchy name stems from the shape of an original cattle brand registered to its herd in the 1930s.

Pribbeno grew up on the southwest Nebraska ranch in the 1990s but left to pursue a financial consulting and accounting career on the West Coast. He returned in 2012. Since then, he and his wife, Brianna, along with his parents, Jeff and Connie Pribbeno, have been busy managing the operation's grazing and crop production in the Chase County area.

As a family, the Pribbenos' conservation efforts were acknowledged in 2022, when the ranch was awarded the Leopold Conservation Award for Nebraska.


The 18,000 acres of native pasture, originally divided into 90 paddocks in 1987 in a "wagon wheel" configuration, has centrally located watering facilities made up of 50 miles of pipeline, more than 100 miles of crossfencing and 120 stock tanks. The cattle are rotated through the paddocks in an organized manner to prevent trampling of fresh forage. The rotation intervals follow adaptive decisions based on weather, growing conditions, markets and makeup of the herd.

The main grazing component includes stands of sand reed, sand bluestem, switch- and indiangrass, with patches of little bluestem. The ranch also includes 4,500 acres of nonirrigated sandy cropland primarily managed in no-till production of corn, millet, wheat and milo, as well as full-season cover crops. The cover crops improve soil conditions and provide additional forage for the beef herd when prairie grasses are dormant.

Pribbeno says in good years with adequate moisture, the cattle may spend only five days twice a year on any given paddock. However, those intervals change continually according to immediate conditions and more formal annual forage evaluations, as well as 12-month rainfall outlooks. Even the makeup and size of the herd changes, generally on a five-year cycle for cow/calf production, alternating with five years of stocker production.

"Currently, we are 85% cow/calf and in cow herd growth," he explains. "We have cows when markets are good and not so many cows when they're not so good. We try to be as adaptive to all the changing variables as we can.

"We're the graziers of the county," Pribbeno continues. With their 90-paddock rotation system and 4,500 acres of cropland, plus rented pastures, they have kept up to 3,000 beef cattle in a single group at times, all the while trying to improve the land's soil conditions and carrying capacity.

By grazing fields of cover crops and harvested crop residues, the operation provides income for neighbors while helping recycle nutrients behind the cattle.


Pribbeno describes the dryland farming operation as "iffy," with the area receiving only 19 inches of precipitation annually. Many years see far less moisture.

"While fallow is a common practice in our area because of dry conditions, we try to use the 'fallow' period for cover crops to grow on tough acres where we may have taken off a corn crop," he explains. "Those covers grow into the warm season, when we can graze them."

Typically, they aim for full-season covers (forage and others) on about one-third of the farm each year while planting corn, milo, millet and wheat on the remaining acres. That's not a fixed rotation ratio, Pribbeno adds. It depends each year on markets, available residue and weather. They like to throw wheat into the cover-crop mix then grow corn or milo in the wheat stubble the following summer.

The cash-crop farm is a separate accounting entity from the beef operation, and yields swing widely in proportion to the rain gauge. Over the years, dryland corn averages are about 80 bushels per acre. Many years, the corn crop completely fails, and some years, it yields 150 bushels per acre. Grain sorghum is more drought tolerant and, in good years, can make 120-plus bushels per acre.


Another example of how the family combines conservation with profitability is its use of "ecological edges" as habitat for beneficial insects. All their cropland is bordered with a mix of perennial native grasses. Beneficial predator insects like lady beetles, flowerflies and tachinid flies thrive in these areas. When pests descend on crops, the beneficial predators are already present to help control the pests. This shift in insect ecology has allowed the Pribbenos to eliminate the use of broad-spectrum insecticides.

"If you make these changes on 2% of your acres, it will affect wildlife on the entire operation," he explains. "Habitat is everything. It affects soil microbes to mammals to waterfowl."

The ranch has an abundance of greater prairie chickens, which congregate where farmland meets rangeland, along with pheasants on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres. Mule deer also are abundant on the ranch. The family makes areas of their property available to public hunting with Nebraska's walk-in hunting access program.

Every quarter section of the ranch has 2 to 10 acres enrolled in CRP and/or wetland conservation programs. In all, 750 environmentally sensitive acres are enrolled in the program, with another 61 wetland sites on 107 acres of the ranch enrolled in wetland restoration and buffer strip programs.

Before Pribbeno came back to the farm, his parents planted more than 10,000 trees and shrubs across the ranch to provide windbreak protection and wildlife habitat. Also, they built a waterfowl pond to attract migratory ducks and geese on the High Plains Flyway and installed four guzzlers to provide drinking water for wildlife.

To share their commitment to conservation and land stewardship, the family hosts several field days and participates in multiple ranch tours and organizations, such as Ranching for Profit or Young Adults and No-Till on the Plains.

"We've found drought trumps all the best management decisions in the world," Pribbeno explains. "But, we're still productive. Not everything works every year, and we don't mind talking about it."


Past Issues