Ranching for Ducks: Gary & Colby Marshall

Pasture irrigation creates prime habitat for pintails

Gary Marshall and his son, Colby, operate a family ranch in the Harney Basin of southern Oregon. During spring and early summer, they flood-irrigate their wet meadows via a series of sloughs, ditches and spreader dikes, providing vital feeding and resting habitat for pintails and other dabbling ducks as the birds migrate north in spring.

While most ranchers in the West take hay off their meadows to feed cattle in winter, the Marshalls and their neighbors swath and rake the hay first, then bring the cows to the hay. They rest about a third of their meadows annually, which increases organic matter and moisture-holding capacity in the soil.

"Our objective is to limit the amount of oil and steel we apply to this land," said Gary Marshall, whose family's roots in Harney County date back to the 1880s.

The Marshalls work closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Ducks Unlimited, the Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon Habitat Joint Venture, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the High Desert Partnership to make the most of their valuable habitat.

"This is a small business, and we are trying to be as profitable as we can be," Colby Marshall said. "The beauty is that the more we build the soils and improve our wetlands for wildlife, the more successful we become at ranching."