Drought is Taking its Toll.

Drought is affecting even the mesquites. This photo appears to be a bad spray job from the past but has never been sprayed and certainly will not be this year. The trees are very stressed from lack of moisture for the last two years. The rangeland grasses are a depressing sight, as the desert termites have finished off the bulk of the old moribund plants. (It is my opinion that termites seldom attack healthy grass plants, only those that are decaying from age and lack of use.) A good chance of rain shows to be in the forecast late this week, sure hope it is a GOOD PREDICTION. Photo was taken May 4, 2023

The next photo was taken yesterday May 6 and shows how the creek bottom is struggling to green up and is actually growing some forage. Note the upper portion of the creek is very dry. This is an awesome statement as to the effectiveness of a productive graze rest program over the last several years. The bottoms of the creeks and washes are the first to recover from continuous grazing and begins the process of recovery from erosion of our precious soil, even during a drought.


Looking Forward to Some Relief

Spring green up is struggling to proceed as the Texas Winter Grass, Canada Wildrye, Western Wheat, Engleman Daisy and the annual Rescue Grass is beginning to lose some of its green luster. Without a rain shower soon, the potential ‘good’ spring will be lost over this area. Where good ground cover including grass, forb and litter are present along with healthy root systems the potential is still possible. Without that cover the spring is all but lost for those that have not utilized a sound grazing management program.

The below photo shows Engleman Daisy, Texas Filary, Rescue grass, Globe Mallow and several other forbs and annuals moving into the survival mode that nature has designed into its program. This survival mode is to produce seed at all costs, as the very low growth of leaf surface is obvious. (The pocketknife is of the 3 ¾” variety for visual comparison) This survival mode is also heavy on the mind of livestock producers in the area, as all ranchmen are faced with critical and possibly very expensive resolutions to the continued drought conditions.

Loss of the Concho’s

“We caught many catfish, sun perch and trout. At the time the North Concho was very large and deep. Many live mussel shells crawled around on the flat surface bank, dropping off into the river when anyone approached the bank.” Edna Allison ‘Milling Around Sterling County’ 1911 era. This memory of the North Concho River just south of Sterling City is a sad statement as to the current condition of the river. The river was named Concho by Spanish explorers, because of the numerous mussel shells found. The Spanish word concho is interpreted to be shell in English. As a young boy in the late 1950’s and early 60’s I found numerous mussel shells along the river, but never any live mussels. Today one must search to find a single remaining shell and the river is only a remnant of what it once was. Dry in many areas with a few clear pools of water, running a small stream during wet spells-mainly in the winter. Still a beautiful river when looking at the areas of clear live water, though wide and muddy when big rains come.

‘Milling Around Sterling County’ a history of the settlement of Sterling County was published in 1976 and is currently being updated after close to fifty years of new history taking place. Wouldn’t it be wonderful after the next fifty years if a third book were to be published telling of the North Concho once again being ‘large and deep’. The knowledge as to what caused the river to ‘dry up’ is now understood, as the loss of the dense cover of vibrant grasses and forbs has been lost and the water cycle no longer works as it once did. Yes, the increase in brush has added to the loss of the water cycle effectiveness, but it is only an ’effect’ of the loss of cover and healthy soils that is the ‘cause’. It is also understood by some that proper grazing management can overcome this lack of cover and healthy plants allowing that water cycle to become an effective provider of water to the aquifer once again. Yes, many other factors, including the many water wells that draw on the aquifer that once provided the beautiful fish and mussel filled river with water, are a contributing factor and always will be.

It is but a dream, but dreams can come true with sharing of knowledge, diligence of labor and love of the land. Fifty years from now Sterling County could be looking at struggling to have any water and the wells that now provide that high quality water could produce little to none.   An unlikely thought? While fishing on the North Concho watching the mussels get away from her, Miss Allison probably didn’t dream, at some time in the future, the ‘conchos’ on the river could not be found.


Engleman Daisy, having been grazed short during the last grazing cycle in the fall. Is beginning to show recovery from the current rest period.

Effective Rainfall

As the ongoing dry spell continues over a wide area. The question of ‘How much rain does it take to be effective?’ becomes an even more relative issue than during higher rainfall periods. The answer lies within numerous ‘What ifs?’ most of which the rangeland manager has no control over. Humidity, wind, cloud cover, temperature and length of time until the next rain event are all things that the manager has no control over and can’t do anything to change. But the most important of all variables that the manager does have control over are the health of the plants on the ground, the density of those plants and the amount of litter covering the ground. (Litter being, dead plant material that has fallen on the soil and is in a state of decay.)

Some managers would say ‘It is dry and has been for a long time, there is no way I can improve on those things.’ Preparation for the ongoing drought began during the last good growing conditions and continues even during the dry spell, by proper grazing rate and giving adequate recovery time for those plants by removing the animals from the pasture for predetermined periods of time. This preparation does not happen by chance alone, it takes planning and diligence of initiation. Then replanning after observing livestock, plant recovery, economic conditions, and rainfall, this is called ‘proper grazing management’. When this ‘plan’ is put in place density of cover -over time- will approach 100% coverage, healthy root systems provide healthy soils that retain moisture and ground litter covers the soil lessoning the evaporation rate caused by all of those variables that the manager has no control over.

The current drought is hurting good managers and poor managers alike. Those that have prepared for current conditions are faring much better than others, even to the point of growing a little forage where good ground cover-healthy soils are prevalent.


Take note that this photo is along a formerly erosive creek bank. Recovery of creek areas is one of the first places an effective grazing program influences.

Rocks-Drought-Rangeland Recovery

Went for a little ‘walk about’ yesterday and made some interesting observations. I have long said that the rocks of the West Texas area that I have the privilege of working with, have become more prevalent in my lifetime of caring for the rangeland. In short, that means erosion (At an almost imperceptible pace) of the limited soil of the hillsides has continued, and the rocks appear to be more prevalent and larger than when I was but a ‘munchkin’. This little ‘walkabout’ showed that even in the midst of the current dry spell the rocks are slowly becoming less noticeable and grasses like Black Grama, Side Oats and most excitingly Little Bluestem are filling in the open spaces of the very rocky terrain, with very little soil to move the rangeland to a higher successional-environmental level. Without proper grazing management (An effective graze-rest program) this would not be the case, the continuous grazing of the past only resulted in more erosion, even on the rocky hillsides that my great grandfather staked his legacy on. This was not his fault, as he did not have the knowledge to know that REST FROM GRAZING is a key factor within any RANGELAND-GRAZING program. We now have that understanding of the rangeland-grazing process and must uRockstilize that knowledge.

With ground litter, grasses and their roots systems the limited rainfall is slowed, resulting in better rainfall retention, thus the rocky hillside and the existing plants get more water per plant than in deeper soils during an extended dry spell.


Not a beautiful picture, but one that tells the recovery story well.

Extremely shallow soils showing slow recovery, even during drought. The next few years should tell and even bigger story.

Optimism vs. Realism or Optimism in Conjunction with Realism

Working with rangeland and livestock (Ranching) has always been an industry of OPTIMISM.

“It will rain soon.”

“When it does rain it will be of adequate volume to cause the land to recover.”

“We’ll hold on for a bit longer, it will rain soon.”

“Yes, feed is high, but it is better than———-”

“Next year’s calves will be better.”

Being a REALIST is many times the hardest to accept but is the process that can make that ranching operation truly sustainable and provide a future for the operation, moving the operation forward to the next step in the ever-changing ranching environment.

The author Adam M Grant states “The goal of learning is not to shield old views against new facts. It’s to revise old views to incorporate new facts.” Utilizing this statement to make the ranching operation sustainable for the families involved and the environment within the operation is critical in todays complicated processes of attaining those sustainability goals.

Understanding the positive relationship of grazing the rangeland and the rest that is to follow is a major key to sustainable ranching and sustainable rangeland resources. This is new information for many and must be incorporated into the old views for future profitability and recovery of our rangeland resources.

Now that the ‘new’ facts are being applied, the rancher’s optimism can now be confidently applied to his operation thanks to the reality of understanding the Graze-Rest relationship

“When it does rain, the land will recover quickly thanks to the improved soil health and the continuous cover of deep-rooted thriving perennial grasses and forbs.”

“Drought is no longer as prevalent as it used to be thanks to the healthy rangeland.”

“Feeding of livestock is no longer a major expense, as the land is providing adequate feed resources for the livestock.”

“Now that I understand the graze-rest relationship, the future of the operation is bright.”

A mark of an open mind is being more committed to your curiosity than to your convictions.

The goal of learning is not to shield old views against new facts. It’s to revise old views to incorporate new facts.

Ideas are possibilities to explore, not certainties to defend.



How much rain does it take to be effective? Depends on the density and health of the plants on the ground.

Properly Cared for Rangelands Can Adapt to Most Environmental Conditions

The following three pictures (All of the same location) have an interesting story to tell of the ability of our rangelands to adapt to ever changing climatic conditions. Both short term and long term. Proper grazing management is critical to assisting natures long range plan.


Recovering from extended dry spell of 2022. False Switchgrass having been grazed twice since lush conditions of 2021, depicted in last photo. Note the excellent ground cover of both plants and litter accumulation. Drought is possibly a major part of nature’s rangeland maintenance plan.
False Switchgrass working to produce a seed crop late in growing season (October 2022) after the extended dry spell of 2022.
False Switchgrass September 2011. One of the best grass growing seasons of memory.

Have you ever considered what the rangeland of the past (Prior to man’s intervention.) looked like during and after a drought?

Historical data and ecological studies of droughts of the past (Paleoclimatology) shows a long history of drought. It is nothing new and as the climate has changed over the millennia (Always has and always will) the plant community adapted to those changing environmental conditions. Climate change is currently and going back to the beginning has always been a determining factor in the development of the plant and animal community. Man is at fault primarily because of his influence or contribution to the poor health of the rangeland.

Yes, drought is much more severe now than in the past, not because the amount of rainfall is less than in the past. It is more severe because our rangelands are in much poorer condition (bare ground-unthrifty plants with weak root systems, loss of the drought tolerant plants, brush encroachment– the list goes on and on.)

When drought occurred prior to mans influence, the wildlife either moved to other areas or died of starvation or lack of water. This resulted in ‘destocking ‘of the land and possibly disruption of the normal migration patterns of the migratory animals. (Moved to other less drought-stricken areas.) This destocking and the length of the ‘rest period’ was greatly influenced by the length of the dry spell. Recovery of those drought-stricken lands of the past was probably very quick thanks to natures quick response to controlling numbers of animals and rapid response to drought management protocol. (Move or die) The length of the drought was a determining factor as to how many numbers were ‘cut from the herd’ and the length of rest until restocked. Take note that this description of natures ‘drought management’ procedure is the basis of many currently productive grazing management programs. (Over simplified statement for certain)

Man, being more concerned with his survival than the land or the animals and originally his lack of understanding of the design of natures ‘drought protocol’ has resulted in the current severity of ongoing droughts. The understanding and knowledge of these drought protocols is now clearly understood by many producers and the lack of that understanding should no longer be a part of any rangeland management process.

Photo is of a transplanted Eastern Gama Grass. Long lost and to a great extent ‘extinct’ from the rangeland in my area. The result of grazing management practices that resulted in loss of the deep-rooted tall grasses that were much more drought tolerant than today’s plant community of the rangeland and the loss of a continuous cover of grasses and forbs over the soil. (Note the density of cover in the photo. Yes, this spot has had some help in the form of irrigation to aid in establishing the Eastern Gama, not a true rangeland condition) With tender loving care (Proper grazing management) and time, this plant could be a part of the basis of recovering the rangeland to its former drought resistant dominance.


Eastern Gama Grass about 1 month after transplanting

It Is Dry Out There

Still setting at 4.47 inches for the past 10 months on the home place. The photo below depicts the current conditions very vividly. Well-planned grazing operations are suffering along with all others, and it is difficult to look forward to the future in this dismal state. When hoping for a good rain to brighten the rancher’s perspective, looking at this same photo reveals two different scenarios.

First zoom in, look closely at the right-hand side, and think what will happen when that long hoped for rain does come. Very little grass or forage of any kind is to be found, no litter of old decaying grasses are available to slow water flow and shade the soil. The slick-compacted soil surface will absorb little of the rainfall unless it is a very slow rainfall event. While the rain will be a welcome benefit to this rangeland most of that precious water will run off taking valuable soil with it and what little does not will be quickly lost to evaporation.

Now look at the lift-hand side. While not what one would hope for, there are standing grass plants that show to have some vigor despite the drought, ground litter is present, and if one zooms in even further, he can see that the soil surface is chipped and broken. (Animal impact) allowing for quicker soil absorption of the rainfall. Even some Texas Croton is present although very small, certainly it is a positive that it is present and sadly is not on the other side of the fence. When the rain does come the left side is much better prepared to capitalize on the wetting event.

Grazing management utilizing a well-planned graze-rest program on a continuing basis is by far the best approach to minimizing the devastating effects of drought. Yes, the height left of the grasses after grazing is critical, but under these conditions many times that is foreshadowed by the devastating drought conditions.


Grazing Video

Here is one of the best grassland videos I have seen, describing growth and utilization of native grasses. One might think; “How does a grazing video produced in Tennessee have any relevance to my drought stricken ranching operation?” It provides a good description of how grasses grow and how different grazing practices effect that growth. While watching and learning from this University of Tennessee production produced August 14, 2019 remind yourself that the information you are receiving can be applied to your operation even during the ongoing drought. If totally destocked, preparing to do so or holding out for that life giving rain and planning for the future of your operation, know that it will get better and when it does those that have properly prepared for the improved rangeland conditions will find themselves at the top of the ranching profitability curve.