Learning to Read the Land

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:

  1. The picture is adjacent to a watering site, thus resulting in being grazed very short.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.)
  4. Cow patties in center and to the right indicate cattle doing well. (Poop-ology)
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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.)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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)
  5. 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.

 

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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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