Many, if not most, in the grazing management or range management field seem to think the answer to poor grazing conditions is the result of high livestock numbers. While this certainly has a bearing on grassland health it is not the total answer to the question. When properly applied, reducing numbers is only part of the solution, rest from grazing is essential and most likely the primary issue. (Reducing numbers can actually cause rangeland health issues over the long haul as plants can get old and moribund due to lack of animal impact.)
When observing livestock grazing ‘Ice-cream grasses’ (Some call them decreasers) one finds that they are so palatable that when cattle find them present on the rangeland they will graze it to the ground and when that grass tries to recover from continuous grazing that plant is almost immediately grazed to the ground again and again, thus it slowly dies as it cannot recover from the continuous grazing. (Starved to death as roots can’t replace lost energy reserves.) This is the reason that Mr. Bentley in 1898 had a hard time finding Indian Grass, Eastern Gamma Grass and Big Bluestem on the rangelands in Abilene Texas area. In fact, in his report to the Department of Agriculture, he stated that some grasses were approaching ‘extinction’ at the time of writing. (1898) Thankfully this extinction has not occurred, and we can still find seed sources of these amazing plants, when a properly applied graze-rest program is utilized. (Awesome)
Click on the below Texas GLC web site to read the short article. Mr. Bentley understood what was happening on the rangeland 122 years ago. It is time we take the time to understand.
Yes in 1898 the problem was recognized and published, yet even today in 2020 most are not willing to accept the fact that rest from grazing is critical when asking the rangeland for maximum, sustainable and profitable production.
Photo below shows Indian and Big Blue after brush management. This would not occur if continuous grazing were being practiced and certainly would not be sustained five years post brush management.
The Monarch Butterfly seems to have enjoyed a successful year, as three waves of the little critters have visited our area this month, presumably on their way to Mexico. I am unsure if the rebound in numbers is due to conservation efforts to replenish the host Milk Weeds or if nature simply provided the correct climatic conditions. Perhaps it is the result of both, but in any event, it is interesting that milk weeds, in particular Antelope-Horn Milkweed, seem to be increasing on the rangeland that we have a more intensive graze-rest program. (I do not understand the relationship as to why this is happening. Anybody have a theory?) I do not expect any toxicity problems with livestock as adequate forage is present for grazing. In fact, we have not noted any toxic plant issues with the use of a properly applied graze-rest program. (Bitterweed and Perennial Broomweed are decreasing at a rapid rate while Twinleaf Senna seems to be stable to increasing on the shallow rocky hillside areas. No chemicals applied only an effective graze-rest program.) Many good things happen when our rangeland is provided the ‘tinder loving care’ it deserves.
Brush management can be an effective tool when working to restore rangeland health, but always remember that it is only a ‘tool’ used by the rangeland mangers effort of improving soil health, becoming more drought tolerant and making the ranching operation more profitable. Of the numerous tools in the toolbox always remember the one tool that is the most important of all is proper grazing management, as the lack of it will result in all the other available tools being largely ineffective. Yes, the use of brush management will appear to be beneficial but over time it normally fails and must be reapplied. When proper grazing management is also applied the CAUSE of the problem has been addressed, resulting in a sustainable solution of past mistakes.
Brush encroachment on our rangelands and the resulting detrimental effects that brush has on the overall health of the rangeland is a result of poor grazing practices of past and present land managers. Simple control or management of the brush is not the answer to establishing healthy conditions, application of sound grazing management is essential to the long-term recovery of the land and for that matter profitability of the operation.
It is a dry June in the area we operate. This 1st picture of a grazed area that has reached the end of the current graze cycle, as cattle were removed just before the picture was made. It tells several interesting stories:
The picture is adjacent to a watering site, thus resulting in being grazed very short.
The dark grey area is of a large prickly pear plant that has died. No chemical used, some sort of natural process is killing the pear, but am unsure of the process that is taking place. (Nature has some amazing tools if given the opportunity to utilize them.)
Ground litter is excellent despite the close grazing. (Indicating that, yes it was time to move, but with timely rainfall and adequate length of rest good recovery can be expected.)
Cow patties in center and to the right indicate cattle doing well. (Poop-ology)
Dung to the left indicate that some of the cattle are perhaps not performing as well. (Perhaps the beginning of drought stress.) Should have moved sooner?
As you look further from the watering area grazing has been heavy, but ground litter and standing grass indicate potential valuable recovery after timely rain and a long rest period.
The light tinge of green, some being weeds and some being grass, shows there is some moisture still available and a few days after the cattle have been removed a slight green-up of the better grasses can be expected. Though it will provide little new growth for grazing purposes.
The 2nd picture is of the same pasture-same day, however some distance from watering area. (Cattle just removed.)
Indian grass is grazed probably to 30-40% of original height, however, is still showing green and will achieve some growth despite lack of rainfall.
Note the Indian grass growing within the downed cedar remnants. Not grazed and protected by the dead limbs. This is one of the ways our best most palatable grasses have survived continuous grazing over the long term. REST IS ESENTIAL.
Some Little blue is visible and has been grazed around the edges. (Once Little blue has matured cattle prefer to not graze the old parts of the plant.)
Ground litter is good, making the rainfall that is to come much more apt to slow and be absorbed into the ground. This litter provides those little microbiomes the nutrition to build soil health. (Hope that rainfall comes soon)
Take note of the prickly pear. While it is not dead, it is in poor health and the bites of the prickly pear beetle are obvious.
The point of observing these photos is to emphasize that close observation of rangeland conditions in relation to livestock grazing programs is an essential part of determining rangeland health.
Why are healthy rangelands more drought resistant?
As the density of cover increases, the soil is shaded causing limited rainfall to be conserved within the soil, evaporation due to wind and direct sunlight is reduced to a minimum.
The leaf surface of the established plants breaks the intensity of heavy rainfall into more manageable-small droplets of water, reducing compaction and creating an adaptive environment for water absorption into the soil.
The litter on the ground holds the rainfall in place so that it has more time to be absorbed. The root systems create avenues for the water to be absorbed.
The deeper the roots the deeper water can rapidly be absorbed. These positive results of saving-storing water create this dense grass cover of grasses.
As the root systems become denser, some roots are actively growing, and some are in the dying process – starting the recycling of the decaying roots and ground litter. This process gives soil microbes, bacteria, earth worms etc. the chance to thrive, further creating even healthier soils.
Those healthy soils with increased humus levels, can retain much more water than degraded soils that have lost their high levels of humus that have washed or blown away due to little cover.
Each step in the process of retaining water in the soil moves the rangeland to a higher plain of succession. When a good grazing management plan is implemented the draws and creek areas are the first to respond, as that is the place that gets the most water from runoff of poorer rangeland. As the density of perennial grasses increase the faster the rangeland resource improves. Even in short grass country dramatic things happen very quickly in those low-lying areas, even the ridges and shallow sites respond quickly. The deep soiled ‘flats’ are much slower to show improvement, a process that is the opposite of what many believe should happen. Lack of consistent rainfall in a dry -brittle- environment is a contributor to this phenomenon. Beginning this process of renewable rangeland takes effort from the rangeland manager, his utilization of a properly implemented sound grazing management plan -while not a simple-easy process- can bear much fruit, renewing the rangeland resource and improving the financial assets of the producer.
The Better it Gets, The Faster it Gets Better
The photo below is of a healthy stand of Texas Bluegrass, the result of a balanced warm-cool season graze-rest program.
This is the third time this spring I have written about Canada Wildrye. Bear with me, as this cool season perennial grass is deserving of additional study.
April rainfall was not as abundant as the three previous months were, thus limiting the available moisture for warm season plants to provide needed grazing as the cool season plants faded into but a memory of the wonderful spring season we just witnessed. The annual Rescue grass, Little Barley and Texas Filaree have matured and while still providing valuable grazing for livestock, are brown and done for the year. Even the Texas Wintergrass is maturing putting on its sharp spears, transitioning to ‘That darned old spear grass’.
Yet as the picture shows the Canada Wildrye is showing excellent growth, providing needed grazing forage for the ‘critters’ to thrive upon. As noted in earlier writings– While always observable in limited amounts on the rangeland with continuous grazing, the lush growth during dryer times was not seen. The establishment of an effective graze-rest program is allowing this excellent grazing grass to proliferate and make a positive improvement to the rangeland. (If you zoom in on the picture, take note of the yellow flowered Engelmann Daisy. It too will prosper with a properly applied grazing system.)
Cool season perennial plants are every bit as important as warm season perennials. A good grazing program is essential to having these plants available for use. That is unless the ranchman prefers to provide for the livestock with an expensive winter-feeding program. Do not trap yourself into the thought process that rest from grazing is for warm season only, cool season rest is just as important. (At least in the ecosystem that our ranching operations are located.)
It is not hard to understand why KR Bluestem is so prolific. The picture below shows early spring growth of it and the making of seed heads in mid-April. Most other warm season perennials are only getting started at this time and certainly not making seed heads. (Three-awns, better known as Needle Grass, being the exception.) The observed vertical growth of the KR is significant for grazing by cattle, as previously stated this vertical growth is only observed when a program of GRAZE-REST is consistently applied. KR is certainly not a favorite grass but is proving to be a usable resource that under continuous grazing is of little value.
Audio podcast of presentation made at the National Society of Range Management meeting in Denver, topic of discussion was about practical rangeland management Art or Science and the ability to merge the two. A lengthy discussion but some of you might enjoy what we had to offer.
This past winter and early spring have been phenomenal with respect to livestock performance. Some of the best quality annual grass and forb production in recent memory has occurred in Sims and
I’s area of ranch production. Close observation reveals the approaching end of this annual cool season growth. (Annual plants only last so long.) Attention needs to now be focused on perennial cool season plants that are showing excellent new growth as the below picture shows. Canada Wildrye in lower portion of photo Western Wheatgrass within mid portion of photo. The Texas Bluegrass did not make the photo as it is just to the right of the lower portion. The summer grasses are beginning to green, albeit slowly and the need for timely late spring rainfall will determine the amount of production those perennial warm season plants will offer. However, those deep-rooted healthy perennials are going to show appreciable growth with the current moisture conditions. The important aspect of the rancher is to pay attention to conditions and not relax with the thought ‘All is well’. With todays market economy every opportunity needs to be realized.
Yes, we are very thankful for the excellent grazing conditions experienced recently. Preparing and being aware of what the next season has to offer, is a large part of planning for properly applied grazing management.
The photo of Bobs Creek shown depicts a much different picture than was present during the continuous grazing days of the past. Rarely did we find dense stands of perennial cool season grasses other than Texas Wintergrass and the creek banks were somewhat erosive with little more than rocks and dirt showing their presence. Grazing and rest from that grazing has made the difference.
Spring shearing has long been, not only a tradition on the Price outfit, but a profitable part of the ranch production ‘mix’ of our operation. Very few ranches in the area are still able to claim this annual event as a part of the ranching process, as the finewool industry has slowly succumbed to modern times of less labor-intensive processes, synthetic fibers and the aggressive coyote, resulting in very few operations still raising them. (Production of quality finewool is important to me as a consumer, as a large part of the winter is spent wearing wool ‘long johns’ light-warm-comfortable and not so hot when the weather warms, an awesome product.) As I participated in this year’s annual shearing event I found myself having a ‘moment’ of sad yet very gratifying reflection of a lifetime of shearing’s, marking’s, tagging’s, shipping’s, gatherings and all of those other ‘ings’ that the finewool business requires. Yes this ‘tradition’ may be coming to an end on the Price outfit, but not without seeing the ‘fight’ through to the end. (Hardheaded?) The past two years the finewool herd with its dual product of wool and lamb has proven to be more profitable than the hair sheep for us. Question is, will we run out of sheep to shear or shearers first? (Perhaps going the way of the ‘buggy whip’?)
As the China Virus grips the nation-world, the wool industry along with many other commodity markets are in a position of unknowns. With today’s virus struggle and the many ramifications it presents -not only health but mental and financial issues- one thing is inevitable, that being CHANGE. Some of those times that we cherish so dearly may pass into a new phase or era. Careful planning and clear judgment are essential through this process, both for the family and the business. (Not to mention our leaders, national-state-local) I fear that the financial aspect of this event will be perhaps the most lasting issue facing us all. Adapting CHANGE is a normal process for those working with the land. The changes that we are facing during this disaster will be no worse than what we and our forefathers have faced in the past. Adapt and never accept defeat, everyone should accept and adhere to the fact that: You are not ‘down’ until you accept that you are, refusing to accept that possibility is of utmost importance. It will get better and as with everyone else; I hope it to be soon.
Good health and prosperity to you all and remember FAITH HOPE AND LOVE are essential ingredients to our future.