Dale and Karil Sader’s farm is a haven for wildlife — by design. The Saders are the 2016 winners of the McPherson County Soil Conservation Wildlife Habitat Award for their work in developing wildlife habitat on their farm nestled in the hills southeast of Lindsborg.

The Saders’ property is a mix of farm ground, pasture and wooded areas. Tree-lined Kentucky Creek winds its way through the property. Wildlife is a common sight — the Saders even witnessed the birth of triplet fawns on their lawn last summer — but it wasn’t always that way.

When the Saders built the original part of their home as a get-away cabin in 2000, the property had not been managed effectively for hunting, and there were erosion concerns on some of the farm ground. The couple had a deep interest in the outdoors and a belief that it was important to take care of the land. They soon started on a plan to enhance the wildlife habitat on the property.

“I was a biology major at Bethany College and my dad, (Glenn Bellah), was a professor in the science department. My Grandfather McClelland was an Extension agent in Washington County. I think I had an appreciation for nature in my blood,” Karil Bellah Sader, a cardiologist, said.

Dale Sader, a banker, shared Karil Sader’s interest in the outdoors. Growing up in Ramona in Marion County, he enjoyed hunting and seeing wildlife. He is an avid bow hunter, and the couple understands the importance of managing harvesting of wildlife. With their backgrounds, encouraging wildlife on their property just seemed like the right thing to do.

With assistance from Dale Ladd, McPherson County Extension agent at the time, the Saders began rehabilitating their pasture in 2002, removing cedar and hedge trees, and developed a regular two-year burning schedule to control trees and brush and improve native grass stands.

In 2005, the family enlarged the house on the property and moved there from Lindsborg. The couple began exploring various programs available on the federal and state level through the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Soil Conservation District to make additional improvements to enhance the farm’s wildlife habitat. They entered into their first wildlife Conservation Reserve Program contract 10 years ago, renewing it this past year. They have also put additional acreage into wildlife CRP this year, bringing their CRP acres up to just over a 100.

The current project involves planting buffer strips along Kentucky Creek with a grass and forb mixture recommended by the NRCS and Soil Conservation District. The strips will provide habitat for game birds and other animals and act as filter strips along the creek slowing water runoff and erosion. The buffers were planted to milo this past season as a cover crop by Josh Martinson, who rents the farm ground from the Saders, and he will be sowing the buffer strips this winter. The farm ground in production is no-tilled.

“We have to give a lot of credit to the various agencies we have worked with and the local Extension service,” Dale Sader said. “They have been very helpful in walking us through the process and providing resources, both information and funding assistance. It’s time consuming to understand the various programs available, and they have been great to work with.”

The Saders recommend that anyone interesting in developing wildlife habitat should start with the NRCS as plans are made.

In the years since they began rehabbing their pasture acres, the Saders have rebuilt terraces and put in a drop structure to control water erosion. An existing farm pond that typically went dry in the summer was enlarged and stocked with fish. Hunting and recreational vehicle access has been better managed to encourage wildlife population growth on the property. The couple have developed a nature trail and planted trees — sometimes replanting as deer tend to pull out young trees — providing habitat for a variety of birds and animals. They are considering planting berry bushes as another food source. In addition to providing winter feeding stations for wildlife, Martinson has worked with them to leave some unharvested grain in the field for the benefit of deer and turkeys. Pastures are hayed rather than grazed.

“Josh has been wonderful to work with. He really has an appreciation for conservation and understands what we are trying to do,” Dale Sader said.

The results of their work are now all around them. A flock of approximately 200 turkeys roams the property, and the deer population has multiplied. Deer and turkeys often come right up to the house. There are now coveys of quail and pheasants, which the Saders never saw before they began the project. There are also numerous other kinds of birds. With the increase in game birds has also come an increase in predators.

“I always enjoy seeing the bobcats, owls and coyotes,” Karil Sader said. “Seeing the wildlife is the most satisfying thing about the work we have done.”

The Saders continue to think about how they can improve their property. They are considering planting berry producing bushes, and they recently attended a convention in Dallas where they attended sessions on developing food plots.

“We continue to learn,” Dale Sader said.

“Our goal is to pass down a sense of stewardship and love of the land to our children and grandchildren,” Karil Sader said.

Being surrounded by nature every time they visit, observing their grandparents’ dedication to conservation of soil and wildlife, and experiencing the fun of outdoor activities should provide a wonderful foundation for achieving that goal.

For photos, click here.