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If not for two unrelated sisters and a salt barrel, Robert Bold's family story would read a lot differently.
There was the first sister. Bold's grandfather, Reinhard Boldt, received his passport in 1910 after fulfilling his obligation to the German military. His plan was to travel to the United States. But his sister couldn't bear to see her little brother leave, so she hid the document inside a salt barrel. When the passport was finally uncovered a year and a half later, Boldt booked passage and sailed for America. He changed his name to Bold, homesteaded in Montana and advertised back in Cincinnati for a wife. More on that later.
Both Robert Bold and his wife, Annette, grew up on ranches but left to pursue careers as educators. Over time though, the couple grew anxious to return to ranch life and to views so sweeping you can see seven of Montana's mountain ranges on a clear day.
Robert and Annette purchased what became Bold Ranch, near Winifred, Mont., in 1979 (the original ranch near Big Sandy is now owned by two of Robert's brothers). Together, with their three children, Robert and Annette have devoted 35 years to careful stewardship of the land and have experimented with various systems to couple profitability with protecting the environment. Their commitment earned them the regional National Cattlemen Beef Association Environmental Stewardship Award in 2012.
"The work of the Bold family exhibits the positive impact that environmental consciousness can play in the sustainability of a ranching operation," said Errol Rice, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.
Bold Ranch includes Angus and Charolais cattle. The Bolds also produce no-till wheat, barley for feed, triticale and alfalfa. The ranch is known for developing breeding stock for themselves and for cattlemen throughout Montana and surrounding states. Between 700 and 800 bulls are on feed here at any one time. The Bolds feed registered and commercial breeding stock, and raise bulls on a custom-feeding basis.
Salt continues to influence the ranch. When the family bought this ranch, the 480-acre, low-lying area that had been flood-irrigated was layered in salt white as snow.
"[That] part of the ranch had been abandoned due, in part, to the fact that the technology and practices to reclaim the soil weren't yet known. So we were guinea pigs, experimenting with different grasses," Bold explains.
The ever-seeking, continually questioning educators researched regions on the other side of the world to discover what worked in their saline soils in central Montana. "We looked at what places like Israel and Australia were doing with saline plants," Bold said. "And we knew we have cool-growing season production versus their warm-growing season production, so we had to factor that in, too. We had to find plants that could handle the soil salts and be able to produce forage to leave behind organic matter."
The first step in the soil-reclamation project was to spread granular gypsum over the soil. With the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Bolds experimented with more than two dozen salt-tolerant grasses, forbs and legumes. Bold said vegetative cover has improved from less than 10 to more than 90%.