Is drought the issue?

IMG_0076“With each passing drought we can never achieve the grazing capacity we had prior to that drought.”

This is a quote from a Sterling-Coke County Texas rancher-neighbor made in the early 1980’s. This rancher had witnessed the 1930’s dust bowl era, the 1950’s drought and numerous other mini-droughts.  At the time he told me this, I was a 30-year-old that was beginning to figure out that I had best listen to the old timers, as their wisdom often had a bigger story to tell that just their statement. It is my opinion that his statement was and still is very accurate, in that on much of our rangeland depleted-aging- moribund rangeland grasses are weak with relatively poor root systems established in even poorer quality soils. Those stressed plants will most certainly wither and possibly die under severe drought conditions.

The question is:  Is it droughts fault these plants perish? Often yes, drought gets the blame and yes that assumption is correct in that it moves the weak plant closer to death because of the increased stress.

The next question is:  Why did the historical droughts prior to European mans presence not cause this same reduction in rangeland quality? (Archaeological and documented history shows a much more severe history of drought prior to the 1800’s than afterward to present.) Mother Nature (One of the Lords most valuable assistants.) designed an ecological system that utilized drought as part of its overall adaptation to what the environment had to offer. Certain species of plants adapted to drought, heavy grazing, fire, short and long rest periods, cold-heat and whatever else came along. When man, a harvester-predator came along, much of that supposedly pristine state changed forever.

The next much bigger question is:  Can man do anything to correct this loss of quality rangelands? The resounding answer is yes, he can. It takes patience, dedication and perseverance, but through planned grazing utilizing timed rest and grazing drought begins to be less of an issue. Many times, treating the issues caused by poor management, such as addressing brush encroachment, soil erosion and loss of certain grasses and forbs needs to be addressed, but to have a sustainable recovery, confronting the cause (Poor grazing management) should be the first step taken.

 

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Rangelands and Ranching: A Study of Proper Use of Rangelands & the Environment by Frank S Price

My son and I ranch a cow-calf, wooled sheep and hair sheep operation in West Central Texas. We operate 7 different grazing units and utilize a single herd, traditional pasture grazing program within all these units. My son represents is the 5th generation of this enterprise that was started in 1876 by my great grandfather. He and his brother began by driving a herd of cattle from Ennis Texas to Santa Anna Texas, ultimately driving the herd of cattle they had built to Kansas markets and returned to Sterling County, to begin a permanent ranching operation. Rainfall within our scattered operations runs from 17” to 20”. The winters, while going into the single digits on occasion are relatively mild compared to ranches further north, resulting in mostly mild winters producing usable cool season growth along with the dominant warm season plants.

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