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.

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

Saving the Earth from Climate Change

Many within the ‘Save the Earth from Climate Change’ group are promoting doubling the land mass that is ‘Protected’. Protected areas are areas like national parks, Yellowstone National Park being one of them. Sadly, studies of the Yellowstone show land degradation continuing even though considerable study and resources have been used to reverse this trend. The Jornada Experiment station in New Mexico is another glaring example of what happens to land within a ‘brittle’ environment that are ‘protected’. (Protected area from grazing livestock was created some 90 years ago, to preserve an area of grassland. It is now a barren desert.)

Sound rangeland-grazing management is perhaps the most valuable environmental solution or tool to a continually changing climate and the resources available to PROTECT the environment. While the ranching-rangeland management industry has made many mistakes in the past, todays knowledge of rangeland recovery techniques has much to offer those concerned with declining environmental conditions. Everyone must learn from past mistakes-inequities; that involves study of the past and asking the simple question of ‘What is the Cause?’ (This not only applies to the environment but most everything that the past has to offer. In short, the study of history and understanding of the issues that caused the extenuating circumstances to exist.)

The climate has never been or ever will be a stable process.

Storing vast amounts of carbon, stabilizing those carbon rich soils, utilizing/storing virtually every drop of rain-snow, maximizing the mineral cycle that strong root systems and the micro biomes can provide a healthy rangeland. Utilizing sunlight energy to the maximum is what sound grassland management is all about, providing society with ever improving environmental conditions regardless of what climate The Lord/Nature provides.

The pictures below depict rangeland ‘protected’ from environmental destruction utilizing a controlled graze-rest program. Utilization of this process can be extremely valuable in preserving The Lords creation and the resulting environmental sound processes.

Big Blue or Sand Blue, Indian Grass, Side Oats: The mineral and water cycles moving forward, making the rangeland environment better for all.
A few yards away Switch Grass taking hold in overflow area. Building healthy-stable-carbon rich soils

Drought is Always a Consideration

We continually talk of grazing management, grazing density, plant diversity and countless other issues to improve our grazing resources. Hopefully resulting in better grazing conditions and above all a healthier ecosystem that provides benefits not only to the ranching community, but the urban public that is finding improving rangeland conditions are beneficial to all, even those that reside in high population areas.

For those rangelands west of the 100th meridian, perhaps the greatest challenge of grazing management is preparing for the next drought which is looming ‘just around the corner’. When the grazing manager finds or understands that preparation for drought is no different than improving his rangeland during wet or what some call normal rainfall conditions. (In my area of ranching normal is dry or drought conditions. In the last 55 years observing rainfall conditions, I estimate that we have survived over 9 to 10 droughty related times. Some more prolonged and severe than others, from 6 months to 3 years. Perhaps better said an extended dry spell averaging every 5 to 7 years.) Those rangelands that have been managed under the influence of a properly applied grazing-recovery from grazing program, during the good years, always come through the extended dry spells in better condition than those lands that are “Used to the fullest” during the wet spells, and not given the opportunity to recover and build soil health.

In short, well managed lands are less prone to the devastating effects of drought than those lands that are taken advantage of during good growing conditions. The opportunity to provide a dependable income for the rancher’s family is greatly enhanced when drought is no longer an ongoing part of the operation. (Or at least the severity of it.) Reduction of livestock numbers at drought initiated low prices and purchasing-feeding high-cost drought feed are both huge when calculating ranch profitability.

The below picture is of Southwestern Bristle Grass a plant that I did not know existed a few years back. Somewhat similar the Plains Bristle Grass, it has a much wider leaf and appears to be much more drought tolerant and palatable than its cousin. Cattle will take a bite of it just about every time, even when passing up the Plains Bristle. It is increasing in coverage at a rapid rate and ultimately may be one of our better grasses. Thanks to grazing program utilizing the REST-GRAZE-REST-GRAZE formula.

May be an image of grass and nature
Photo provided by Ward Whitworth

Drought Management

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.DSC00852