Why are healthy rangelands more drought resistant?
- As the density of cover increases, the soil is shaded causing limited rainfall to be conserved within the soil, evaporation due to wind and direct sunlight is reduced to a minimum.
- The leaf surface of the established plants breaks the intensity of heavy rainfall into more manageable-small droplets of water, reducing compaction and creating an adaptive environment for water absorption into the soil.
- The litter on the ground holds the rainfall in place so that it has more time to be absorbed. The root systems create avenues for the water to be absorbed.
- The deeper the roots the deeper water can rapidly be absorbed. These positive results of saving-storing water create this dense grass cover of grasses.
- As the root systems become denser, some roots are actively growing, and some are in the dying process – starting the recycling of the decaying roots and ground litter. This process gives soil microbes, bacteria, earth worms etc. the chance to thrive, further creating even healthier soils.
- Those healthy soils with increased humus levels, can retain much more water than degraded soils that have lost their high levels of humus that have washed or blown away due to little cover.
Each step in the process of retaining water in the soil moves the rangeland to a higher plain of succession. When a good grazing management plan is implemented the draws and creek areas are the first to respond, as that is the place that gets the most water from runoff of poorer rangeland. As the density of perennial grasses increase the faster the rangeland resource improves. Even in short grass country dramatic things happen very quickly in those low-lying areas, even the ridges and shallow sites respond quickly. The deep soiled ‘flats’ are much slower to show improvement, a process that is the opposite of what many believe should happen. Lack of consistent rainfall in a dry -brittle- environment is a contributor to this phenomenon. Beginning this process of renewable rangeland takes effort from the rangeland manager, his utilization of a properly implemented sound grazing management plan -while not a simple-easy process- can bear much fruit, renewing the rangeland resource and improving the financial assets of the producer.
The Better it Gets, The Faster it Gets Better
The photo below is of a healthy stand of Texas Bluegrass, the result of a balanced warm-cool season graze-rest program.
This is the third time this spring I have written about Canada Wildrye. Bear with me, as this cool season perennial grass is deserving of additional study.
April rainfall was not as abundant as the three previous months were, thus limiting the available moisture for warm season plants to provide needed grazing as the cool season plants faded into but a memory of the wonderful spring season we just witnessed. The annual Rescue grass, Little Barley and Texas Filaree have matured and while still providing valuable grazing for livestock, are brown and done for the year. Even the Texas Wintergrass is maturing putting on its sharp spears, transitioning to ‘That darned old spear grass’.
Yet as the picture shows the Canada Wildrye is showing excellent growth, providing needed grazing forage for the ‘critters’ to thrive upon. As noted in earlier writings– While always observable in limited amounts on the rangeland with continuous grazing, the lush growth during dryer times was not seen. The establishment of an effective graze-rest program is allowing this excellent grazing grass to proliferate and make a positive improvement to the rangeland. (If you zoom in on the picture, take note of the yellow flowered Engelmann Daisy. It too will prosper with a properly applied grazing system.)
Cool season perennial plants are every bit as important as warm season perennials. A good grazing program is essential to having these plants available for use. That is unless the ranchman prefers to provide for the livestock with an expensive winter-feeding program. Do not trap yourself into the thought process that rest from grazing is for warm season only, cool season rest is just as important. (At least in the ecosystem that our ranching operations are located.)
It is not hard to understand why KR Bluestem is so prolific. The picture below shows early spring growth of it and the making of seed heads in mid-April. Most other warm season perennials are only getting started at this time and certainly not making seed heads. (Three-awns, better known as Needle Grass, being the exception.) The observed vertical growth of the KR is significant for grazing by cattle, as previously stated this vertical growth is only observed when a program of GRAZE-REST is consistently applied. KR is certainly not a favorite grass but is proving to be a usable resource that under continuous grazing is of little value.
This past winter and early spring have been phenomenal with respect to livestock performance. Some of the best quality annual grass and forb production in recent memory has occurred in Sims and
I’s area of ranch production. Close observation reveals the approaching end of this annual cool season growth. (Annual plants only last so long.) Attention needs to now be focused on perennial cool season plants that are showing excellent new growth as the below picture shows. Canada Wildrye in lower portion of photo Western Wheatgrass within mid portion of photo. The Texas Bluegrass did not make the photo as it is just to the right of the lower portion. The summer grasses are beginning to green, albeit slowly and the need for timely late spring rainfall will determine the amount of production those perennial warm season plants will offer. However, those deep-rooted healthy perennials are going to show appreciable growth with the current moisture conditions. The important aspect of the rancher is to pay attention to conditions and not relax with the thought ‘All is well’. With todays market economy every opportunity needs to be realized.
Yes, we are very thankful for the excellent grazing conditions experienced recently. Preparing and being aware of what the next season has to offer, is a large part of planning for properly applied grazing management.
The photo of Bobs Creek shown depicts a much different picture than was present during the continuous grazing days of the past. Rarely did we find dense stands of perennial cool season grasses other than Texas Wintergrass and the creek banks were somewhat erosive with little more than rocks and dirt showing their presence. Grazing and rest from that grazing has made the difference.
Spring shearing has long been, not only a tradition on the Price outfit, but a profitable part of the ranch production ‘mix’ of our operation. Very few ranches in the area are still able to claim this annual event as a part of the ranching process, as the finewool industry has slowly succumbed to modern times of less labor-intensive processes, synthetic fibers and the aggressive coyote, resulting in very few operations still raising them. (Production of quality finewool is important to me as a consumer, as a large part of the winter is spent wearing wool ‘long johns’ light-warm-comfortable and not so hot when the weather warms, an awesome product.) As I participated in this year’s annual shearing event I found myself having a ‘moment’ of sad yet very gratifying reflection of a lifetime of shearing’s, marking’s, tagging’s, shipping’s, gatherings and all of those other ‘ings’ that the finewool business requires. Yes this ‘tradition’ may be coming to an end on the Price outfit, but not without seeing the ‘fight’ through to the end. (Hardheaded?) The past two years the finewool herd with its dual product of wool and lamb has proven to be more profitable than the hair sheep for us. Question is, will we run out of sheep to shear or shearers first? (Perhaps going the way of the ‘buggy whip’?)
As the China Virus grips the nation-world, the wool industry along with many other commodity markets are in a position of unknowns. With today’s virus struggle and the many ramifications it presents -not only health but mental and financial issues- one thing is inevitable, that being CHANGE. Some of those times that we cherish so dearly may pass into a new phase or era. Careful planning and clear judgment are essential through this process, both for the family and the business. (Not to mention our leaders, national-state-local) I fear that the financial aspect of this event will be perhaps the most lasting issue facing us all. Adapting CHANGE is a normal process for those working with the land. The changes that we are facing during this disaster will be no worse than what we and our forefathers have faced in the past. Adapt and never accept defeat, everyone should accept and adhere to the fact that: You are not ‘down’ until you accept that you are, refusing to accept that possibility is of utmost importance. It will get better and as with everyone else; I hope it to be soon.
Good health and prosperity to you all and remember FAITH HOPE AND LOVE are essential ingredients to our future.
While preparing for an NCBA Webinar presentation discussing drought management, which was aired March 24, 2020 at 7:00PM. Managing Drought – Effective Mitigation Strategies. If you have an interest in viewing it can be found at:
While preparing for the presentation I realized that with the current China virus issues (Corona Virus for some), we are rapidly moving into an economic drought. As with rain related droughts the forecasters are all over the board, but it is my reasoning that, as with that shortage of rainfall, we had all better be preparing for an extended economic ‘drought’. Once again as with a rainfall drought, those that have prepared prior to that ‘dry spell’ will fare the issues and perhaps ‘calamities’ better than those that have not prepared.
One thing that is a given is that those rangeland managers (ranchers) that have developed an effective grazing management program that focuses on profitability of that ranching operation and the environmental improvement that goes with that profitability, will fare this economic drought much better than those that are just ‘going with the flow’ of continuous grazing.
As I plan to emphasize in the Webinar: Prepare for the worst of the droughts early on, not procrastinating to the point of ‘panic’ resolutions. Then, just maybe, the forecast will be for better times returning soon.