Looking Down on the Rangeland

Looking down on the rangeland should not be considered a negative or derogatory aspect. This spring season is one of the most notable in terms of looking across the rangeland and making potential serious mistakes in analyzing what is happening. Statements like: “Never saw so much grass.” “The Spear Grass is taking over.” “I’m surprised there isn’t much Broom Weed this year.” “Weeds are taking over, if not killed there will be nothing to show for this rain we are receiving.” The list can go on for several pages and the statements may be correct, or incorrect.

 

Now let’s look down: The below picture is a good example of what the rangeland can tell us if we look closely. The reader will possibly be able to see things that I have missed -the point is- we have to look closely to determine what the range condition is, what the potential for the rest of the year might be and perhaps what should be done to make it better for the future.

 

Here are some of the things I see:

  1. Among all the plants seen the Reverchon bristle grass and another grass to the left, that is beyond my expertise to identify, are the only ones that have been grazed.
  2. Both grass plants have been grazed well below the 50% that many say is desired.
  3. The ground litter is very good except for the bare soil, and even it has a tolerable sprinkling of litter.
  4. There is possibly some sign of termite activity on the litter. This is not a bad thing as decomposition of plant material is important for soil health.
  5. The bare soil shows signs of pooling of rainfall and no erosion activity. Would take a ‘really’ big rain to run water.
  6. Some very palatable weeds are present such as one of the Plantains showing no evidence of grazing. Should sheep be added to the grazing mix?
  7. Annual Broom Weed is present. Will it dominate as the summer season progresses?
  8. To the right of the Reverchon are two small grasses, they do not appear to be seedlings and are probably lesser value short grasses. (Red Grama?)
  9. To the lower left of the Reverchon are grass seedlings, babies too young to identify, but are much wider leafed than the previous grass plant mentioned. Improving rangeland conditions?
  10. Texas winter grass to the far right shows no sign of grazing. As the spears of the seed head mature most grazing animals cease grazing it and move to other plants for grazing, unless that is all there is to graze and if that is the case animal condition may suffer.
  11. A large amount of grazable forage will be lost as summer heat reduces much of the cover to unusable grazing material. Low density grazing? A good cover crop that will be utilized by termites-earth worms-microbes-etc. to improve soil health.

The analysis of each site will always be different, but trends will be obvious with a little practice. One exciting trend noted this season is the increase of Buffalo Grass beneath the heavy cover of Texas Filaree. With a continuing effective graze-rest program this can be a ‘game changer’ with respect to drought resistance.

The management solutions to questions raised are up to the grazing manager. Looking down is the only way he can make an informed judgment.IMG_0293(2)

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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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