What Color is Your Winter Dormant Rangeland?

White Range

White rangeland is composed of narrow leafed, slow growing drought tolerant grasses. Three awns, many of the Tridens and even Hooded Windmill are among the many white grasses. Regretfully most of the rangelands of the western United States are dominantly white with very few red grasses found. Lack of proper grazing management has caused this to happen as use of livestock under continuous grazing and over rest (Gray rangeland) has caused the red grasses to die over time with the white grasses replacing them. White grasses are not necessarily all bad. Using Hooded windmill for a comparison, it is well liked by cattle during the growing season even if it is dormant due to dry weather. Even Black Grama matures in the winter to a white color, it is known to be a highly favored grass in western areas. The color comparisons are for quick visual determining of the general health of the rangeland, close inspection and identification of the individual plants is always the best for sound rangeland analysis.

An interesting study of these colored rangelands can be made as the highway rights-of-way are mowed after frost. Many times, the right-of-way will show a mix of red and white after the mowing demonstrating what color quality rangeland can potentially look like. (KR Bluestem can lead to considerable discussion here.) Now look across the fence onto the grazed range, sadly in many cases no red can be found and if it is found, most likely one of two things is taking place. Perhaps the rainfall and average humidity is higher resulting in more red range or, if in dryer areas, red in the pasture is a good indicator of a grazing manager that understands proper grazing management and applies this knowledge within his grazing of livestock. While taking note of the range color, many times it is not dominant red or white, it is gray indicating severely declining range conditions. We will cover this one next time.

In 2011 this photo would have been much different as this canyon was a solid mass of Blueberry Cedar (Very difficult to ride across, even impossible in places.) After a wildfire passed through, nature has replaced the Blueberry with Flameleaf Sumac, Shin oak and the grasses are beginning to take ahold where there was very little prior to the fire. Some of the skeletons of the Cedar are visible, much of it was over 20’ high. The fire was so intense that all that was left of the larger trees was an outline of ash showing the limb structure laying on the ground.

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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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