Rangeland Recovery Is Possible

Even during extended dry spells, Big Blue seems to turn up in surprising places when lots of TLC (Proper grazing management) is applied. Take a moment to think or at least dream of what the rangeland in your area looked like in the mid 1800’s, when tall grasses were dominant, and brush was limited to small areas that were not prone to wildfire events. From high rainfall areas to the limited rainfall of dryer brittle environments, it was bound to be a sight to behold. The tools and knowledge are available to at least begin to recreate those conditions. Planning and diligence can begin to move this ‘dream’ forward, however one thing is for certain:

If the rangeland manager is unwilling to utilize those ‘tools’ the process will never move forward.IMG_0109

Prickly Pear Mortality

In previous posts I have talked of the prickly pear reducing in canopy coverage over a considerable portion of the rangelands that Sims and I work. I wish a qualified scientist would come along and interpret what is happening, but while waiting for this fellow, here is my opinion.

I have observed the pear beetles that are shown in third picture for most of my life. Taking note that the damaged pear pads they create while feasting on the plant tend to die over time, the entire plant always seemed to remain growing. With little grass surrounding the plant I assumed the pear had some sort of mechanism that prevented the grass from growing next to and within the plant itself. These assumptions appear to be wrong.

As the controlled grazing program has increased the density and vigor of the grasses and their resulting strong root systems, the pear is succumbing to that competition. The pear beetles and perhaps other disease issues damage the pear plant and the grasses take over. (Poor little beetles may be eating their way out of a home.) Prescribed fire certainly can move this process forward faster but does not appear to be a critical factor. Rangelands that have not had a fire placed on them are showing the same decline in pear coverage although not as fast or perhaps complete. Even those pear pads that are broken off and fall to the ground do not take root, as they fall on a turf of grass and litter that prevents the ground- soil-moister contact that implements the new root growth.
One thing is for certain, without the implementation and continued use of a sound grazing management plan the grasses would never reach the density level that makes this process work.

IMG_0153(1)IMG_0152(2)IMG_0008(2)                                          The better it gets the faster it gets better.

The Value of Soil Cover

Bare soil seldom assists nature in moving forward the many ‘gifts’ she has to offer when referring to healthy rangeland. Conversely, soil cover is what she asks for to move the rangeland forward to a healthy environmentally productive state. Cover of the soil is generally a simple process, as it may be perennial grass/forbs and the root systems associated with them, it may be litter being, old decaying plants and it might be annual plants that at least offer a start to healthy rangeland. Hopefully a combination of the above are what we as rangeland managers can offer what the Lord created in the form of nature. Without those tools erosion and drought will prevail, reducing our rangeland resource to potentially desertifying ruin. Taking the time to understand the processes and properly applying them, is certain worth the effort and the ranching operation can realize consistent profitability during the process.

A WIN-WIN DEAL.

 

Diversity of plants is very important within healthy rangelands. Picture shows Canada Wildrye, Side Oats, Big Blue. Indian Grass and many other plants. Albeit within what used to be nothing more than a ‘Rock Pile’.DSC00868

Proper grazing managemant is the best drought management tool available.

Hooded Windmill Grass

Hooded Windmill Grass is finding a higher place in my book of preffered grasses. Livestock seem to preffer grazing it to many other dormant mid grasses and provided a good grazing program has allowed its root system to be strong & healthy – when a little rain comes along it is among the first to green up.

DSC00878Zoomed in photo reveals relatively close grazing and green shoots after a recent small rain. A long rest period will provide oportunity to fully recover and become yet stronger, providing ‘insurance’ for the next dry spell.

Proper grazing managemant is the best drought management tool available.

Grassland Management an Environmental Solution

There is little doubt that man has always had an influence over the environment, or at least since man first appeared on the scene. In many cases his influence has been negative, utilizing The Lords creations to his benefit, mining the resources available and paying little attention to the long-term effects of his use of those resources. In the beginning man was only concerned with survival and justifiably so, the resources available to him were what seemed an infinite inventory of tools to survive, all he had to do was figure out how to utilize the many things available to him. Over time as he developed those mental skills necessary to become proficient at survival, he began advancing a culture and sought to build a quality life for he, his family and the community surrounding him. All the while ‘mining’ the resources available to him as they seemed to be endless in availability. History is littered with failed nations and cultures that used or mined the land resource to the point that the soils he was using deteriorated, from loss of fertility and erosion to the point that the culture failed from starvation or political dissatisfaction that ultimately destroyed the cultural infrastructure that had been sought by its people. Yet, there were a few cultures that very early on in the history of man, recognized the need to build soils. Creating terraces, adding manure back to the soil, fallowing the land and rotating crops. The Mayans and Incas were some of these people, yet those talents were greatly lost over time. (Discussing what happened to these cultures will be deferred to another time.)

As the world has arguably been populated in all sectors, there are no longer new lands to move to and develop so that man can exploit and mine the soil to the point of destruction. For man to survive, it must be recognized that soil is a renewable resource, that when nurtured by man, can produce ever more productive crops, livestock and environmentally sustaining benefits to the world we reside in.  It is not necessary for man to till or graze the land to the point of severe erosion and near total loss of fertility of those soils. It is not necessary for man to accept the argued premise that CO2 will become an environmentally unacceptable detriment to the world we depend on for survival. Man must recognize that he has caused the severe depletion of the soil resource and that he can begin to make a difference in recovering what has been lost.

 

Keeping in mind The Lords plan was to rest the land every 7th year (Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:4) As the practice of the art and science of grazing management is utilized more and more by rangeland managers the tools to truly make a difference in rangeland soil recovery to the point of regaining the ecosystems found by early man. The cow and in some applications sheep and goats, are an integral part of this reclamation. (Animal impact is extremely necessary for rangeland recovery and maintenance.) Those that understand and observe this process working in real time need to tell the story to those that seem to think the cow is bad for the land. As she is one of the basic tools to recover the lost soils that we so poorly managed in the past.

 

Photo was taken in early October, well before frost and cold weather. Dry conditions will be a challenge going into the winter months.DSC00881

Careful Analysis of Rangeland Critical Going into Winter

While planning for winters grazing program, factor into the equation that the quality of the grass may not be at the level the West Central Texas rancher may be accustomed to. Excellent moisture in late winter-spring and early summer provided excellent-rapid growth. This rapid growth may have produced forage that is not of high quality, resulting in a protein deficient feed source for livestock. (Some of the weaning weights are reflecting this, as the weights are not what was expected.) Without fall rains to ‘freshen’ the summer grasses we could be in for a tough winter. Of course, if the cool season perennials have been cared for, late fall and winter moisture can be an excellent ‘supplement’ to the mature summer grasses.

 

Proper care of cool season perennials is just as important as care for the warm season ones (At least in the area that I work in.) We can’t make it rain. We can only prepare for the possibility that it might not. Then when it does rain, proper grazing management can assist in quickly moving forward the grazing-livestock program.

 

The Big Blue pictured here has struggled with the lack of summer moisture this year as all plants have. It has produced very little seed and shows lack of vigor, as does the Indian Grass at the top portion of the picture. (Will have to zoom in to see it.) However, it is exciting to see that those two grasses have produced some regrowth from the late spring grazing, most other grasses have been in a brown-dormant state all summer. Take note that this picture is on a rocky hill side, Big Blue and Indian are adaptable to many range sites, not just the deep soiled areas. In fact, it has been my observation that the shallow-rocky sites are the first to reveal these two ‘ice-cream’ plants.DSC00876 (002)

Why the Cow is Important for Rangeland Ecosystem Health

This past summer I had the privilege of giving a presentation at the Texas Wildlife Association’s annual convention. Visiting with various owners of smaller places that have no interest in raising livestock proved very educational. Some expressed that after buying very degraded ranches that had been abused for years by failing ranching enterprises, rest from grazing was phenomenal in rangeland recovery for the first five to ten years. Then after that recovery period the rangeland seemed to start going backwards. The grasses were becoming what appeared to be old and dying, bare soil was becoming more evident and erosion was increasing after what was originally believed to be a phenomenal recovery of the land. My discussion during the presentation was about continual improvement to the rangeland resource well over the ten years that they had experienced. This led to discussion of what was happening to those rested (over rested) places.

Grass plants need disturbance to produce growth nodes and tillers for new growth. Once a grass plant matures without impact from some outside source, (breaking off the old leaves-trampling them to the ground-burning them off-biting them off etc.) the plant goes into a ‘neutral’ mode that ultimately reduces the plant to a moribund state that does not produce new tillers and growth nodes. This results in a slow death from the center of the plant outwards. A well-planned grazing program, utilizing cattle and other livestock to intensely graze the plants then providing extended rest periods is a very effective way of reversing this issue.

The picture below is of ‘a very lonesome’ Switch grass plant. (Only one I have found within this pasture.) Cattle were moved out 29 days ago and the current dry conditions reflect slight growth the plant has achieved in this length of time. However, note the lack of green of the other grasses, this expresses the drought mitigating characteristics of deep rooted-healthy tall grasses. Continuous grazing would destroy any hope of increasing the coverage of the Switch grass.
Of other interest is the pictures skeletal remains of what I believe to be Horse Nettle. The leaves have been stripped off these plants and as pastures that have not been grazed show no signs of this, I assume the cattle did the stripping. No health issues have been observed, so poisoning is not at issue. I do note that I have observed several other ‘poisonous’ plants grazed by livestock over the years and assume that limited grazing of these ‘bad’ plants is not necessarily a bad thing. Smaller Perennial Broom Weed is one of the others and I suspect percentage of diet is a major factor.
Studying the rangeland and seeking to understand what and why certain things are happening is fascinating.DSC00875