Sustainable Rangelands

Sustainable Rangelands:    Grasslands that, when utilized for a specific goal or purpose, are consistently improving or at a minimum showing equal heath and vigor, after timely recovery from that use.

Much as in the statement, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, any definition of sustainable rangelands must apply to each individual’s perception of what the goal is. I was at the 2013 NCBA convention when McDonald’s, the hamburger giant, made the statement that, at a point in time they would only serve sustainable beef. The next words from the speaker’s mouth was that the cattle raisers and NCBA would have to determine what the correct definition of sustainable beef was. I am certainly not a scholar of the English language, but it appears to me that we are trying to make the definition of the word sustainable much too broad. It is a word that has become accepted as an environmentally, socially and economically acceptable term for most any commodity produced. Many industries both in agriculture and others outside of agriculture are spending vast amounts of time, and for that matter money, trying to come up with an acceptable definition and standards that apply to their respective “sustainable” industry.  I believe that the English language is too diverse to limit such a broad and key area to one word. I have never been very good at giving definitions of words, (Just ask my teachers from grade school.)  Words that are used out of place and are to general to describe what is actually occurring, should be replaced with those that more accurately portray the situation. Now if you ask me to describe healthy-improving rangelands that’s a different story.

A healthy rangeland is one that is moving the water cycle forward so that little water from precipitation is wasted. That water it is either utilized by the plant community for growth and reproduction or can soak into the ground and become part of the aquifer system.

A healthy rangeland is one that is moving the mineral cycle forward. Mineral cycles are complicated, but one of the key things that happens is the magical process of photosynthesis converts sunlight to chemical energy, turning CO2 to carbon, which is stored in the soil for future plant and microbial use and oxygen is released into the atmosphere.

A healthy rangeland is one that is building soil health. Combining the improved water and mineral cycles is the basis of improving soil health providing a good habitat for microbes, earthworms, insects and numerous other ‘critters’ that are so important to storing water, energy, minerals and countless other nutrients, producing healthy soils.

As all these resulting improving rangeland health issues come together to produce a truly sustainable rangeland. All as a result of initiating and maintaining a well designated-practical rangeland management program.

Pretty cool deal.

 

 

Big Blue – Indian – Little Blue – Canada Wildrye – Texas Cup – Wild Honeysuckle

All native no seeding. Can’t ask for any better than this. All it takes is a properly planned, applied and maintained grazing program. Yes, lots of patience, planning and perseverance needs be applied in liberal proportions.

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What happened to the amazing grasslands that early European man found on the Great Plains?

Farm Bulletin No. 10 – GRASSES AND FORAGE PLANTS – BY H. L. Bentley, Special Agent in Charge of Grass Experiments at Abilene, Texas 1898.

“Stockmen traveling in San Saba, Tom Green and Taylor counties in 1876 said, Grass everywhere 1 to 3 feet high sometimes as high as cows’ backs on uplands as well as bottoms. At that time there is little doubt that the ranges would have supported 300 head of cattle per square mile.  It is claimed that 300 A.U. per section was the common average rate 10 years ago!  (1888) Today it requires at least 10 acres per head (64 A.U. per section) and it is often considered not the best policy to put more than 50 cows to the section.”

“This overstocking of the ranges has continued year after year, through good seasons and bad ones, until it is of the opinion of some of the most experienced cattlemen of central Texas that the injury has gone almost past the point where redemption is possible. The ranges have been almost ruined, and if not renewed will soon be past all hope of permanent improvement.”

Think trough what these last two paragraphs said. In 1876 three hundred head of cattle per section of rangeland, after 10 years it was recognized that it would have been best if 150 head were the starting number, yet for 10 continuous years the rangeland was able to support those numbers. Those are grazing rates that would rival the best farm land available, highly irrigated and fertilized, with new crops coming available on a year-round basis. Impossible, yet it is documented that it what was done. (Granted at the expense of the rangeland resource.)

Ask yourself how in the world was this possible? The grasses were the best available, Indian-Big Blue-Switch-Eastern Gama, deep rooted (possibly 15 to 20 feet deep-even deeper according to some scientists), healthy soils that stored huge amounts of water within that soil profile, that the root system was feeding with the carbon being sequestered. The microbes-earth worms and all of those good things that grow in a healthy soil profile, providing nutrients for the plants. Those tall-deep rooted-healthy plants had enough energy stored in their roots systems to provide that grazing, at least until the roots used their surplus energy, resulting in their death. (It is worth noting that the plant list that Mr. Bentley provides in his article did not include those grass’ listed above.) Had those grass’ already disappeared as a result of those 10 years of heavy-continuous grazing?

In 1898 some 20 years after the cattle grazing era began, it was recognized that much of the pristine rangeland had already disappeared, yet in 2019 many grazers of the land are still managing the land in much the same way. (Although at considerably smaller numbers.) Yes, virtually all producers want to “Leave the land in better shape for their kids.” Millions and millions of dollars are spent trying to reclaim the rangeland, very successfully many times only to see the same old process of ‘Here comes the brush again’ or ‘Drought is much more prevalent than ever before.’ Those are only symptoms of the overall cause. POOR GRAZING MANAGEMENT

 

Stopping active erosion is one of the first things observed when utilizing an effective grazing program. This former ‘ditch or wash’ is recovering well.

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Why I Ranch…


Posted on October 24, 2017 by morgan.treadwell

Frank and Sims Price Ranch

In 2012, Price Ranch was recognized for their range management when they were presented the Outstanding Rangeland Stewardship Award by the Texas Section, Society for Range Management and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. And it was recognized as a 2013 regional Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) winner during the 2013 Cattle Industry Summer Conference.

How did you get your start in ranching? The Price family began ranching in 1876. Frank Price has managed his family’s ranch for 40 years, first in partnership with his father, and then in partnership with his son Sims in 2011. Together, they run their cow-calf operation on 68,000 acres. Sims and his wife Krista are the fifth generations of Prices on the ranch, which they operate in four counties. The ranch operates with three primary income enterprises including sheep, cattle, and hunting. 

How important is agriculture to your family?The Price family has two primary goals. First, the ranch is operated as a separate business, self-sustaining, and is expected to show an annual profit. Second, but equal, their goal is to leave their natural resources in the best possible condition for the next generations.The family is dedicated to these goals. They have recently started using Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) dollars to make continuous improvements to the ranch, and they also use controlled and prescribed burning to their benefit by adjusting their livestock grazing charts to include speed of moves, flash grazing, animal density and total deferment.

What makes ranching in West Texas so unique? In a normal year, they receive 18 inches of rainfall. These last two years have been abnormal, with exceptional drought and devastating wildfires, particularly in their area,” said Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association President Joe Parker, Jr. “Even though they had to reduce their herd to protect their land, they still found lessons in flexibility during the adversities. The Price family’s experiences with wildfire lead them to be a leading voice in Texas on inter-agency cooperation in fighting wildfires. We are glad to have his practical and sound leadership in such an important area.” The father-son partnership at Price Ranch represents the fourth and fifth generations of Prices to ranch in west Texas.

Goals of Rangelands and Ranching


It is my hope that rangeland managers, environmentalists and anyone else that works with, or even has concern for our great rangeland resources across the United States, (The world for that matter.) will be able to learn from the posts available on this web site. It is not expected that everyone will agree with the posts or comments, but perhaps the reader will think through and begin to understand the process’ involved in sound rangeland management and the value it has for the ranching and environmental communities.

Not only are the environmental aspects to be covered within this ‘Blog’ of high priority but the welfare of the animals involved in the ranching process are also of great concern. After some time and posts, it is my desire to show how important healthy-properly handled livestock are to the profitability of the ranching operation and most importantly to the health of the rangeland itself. (Animal impact and the timing of that impact are a key element to healthy rangeland ecosystems.)

Understanding the importance of looking at a ranching operation from the perspective that everything that is done on a ranch has a direct influence on that operation. Whether it be grazing, finances, type of livestock, family wellbeing, or socially within the community all have a direct influence on the success of the operation. Over time it is my hope to provide some understanding of how these and many other relationships are so important in achieving the overall success of not only the ranching operation, but the health of our rangeland resource.

Finally, I have no desire for anyone to even remotely think that I am an expert or master at anything. I simply have a passion for the land and recognize the astonishing changes that can be realized when sound grazing management is applied to the rangeland. As a rancher or rangeland manager, I am willing to share my experiences in working with the amazing resources the rangeland has to offer. The potential for marked improvements in the environmental aspects of sound rangeland management practices are numerous. Addressing soil loss or erosion, increasing water retention from runoff prevention, storing the water in the soil for future use thus making drought a much more manageable issue, sequestering carbon within that healthy soil created by that properly applied grazing management are all obtainable often at an amazingly rapid rate. Offering my thoughts about these and more rangeland issues will certainly be an exciting process and perhaps along the way I can learn from others that are willing to share and comment to this web site.