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.