The importance of carefully monitoring rangeland conditions is essential when working with grazing lands. Conditions or issues can be averted or at least addressed if the grazing manager is closely watching the rangeland and livestock performance. As the picture of Indian grass shows, this once healthy-vigorous plant (Photo 2) has become moribund and has ceased to be a healthy contributor to the rangelands improving health. The dark brown to black area is what used to be a thriving Indian grass plant, due to lack of animal impact or any other disturbance to cause new growth nodes to produce new growth the leaf structure has slowly died. (Note the center of the plant has hollowed out with dead material.) Yet in its struggle to survive green shoots of new growth are occurring. Think what the root structure must look like, probably much like what we see on the surface.
The second picture is of the same plant or plants three years earlier, a dramatic change at best. What happened? Low density grazing? Rest period to long? Drought? Manager needs to step up his management program? Possibly all the above except for drought, which many times is wrongly given the blame for management mistakes. Indian grass and its deep strong root system is one of the most drought tolerant grasses out there, provided the grazing program is adapted to its health requirements. Graze-Rest-Graze-Rest.
The Better it Gets the Faster it Gets Better. UNLESS
Many times, a rancher makes the statement that “not much will grow on these rocks”. Time and effective grazing management practices are proving this to be incorrect. Proper length of rest and grazing of those rocky areas are proving to be among the first areas to show dramatic improvement. Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, and others of the deeper-rooted grasses seem to like the fractured limestone rocks of West Texas and some of the rockier areas that show little topsoil are beginning to team with good cover of healthy plants.
Why is this taking place? Maybe the rocks at the surface concentrate the limited rainfall. Maybe those rocks help protect new and even older plants from grazing. Perhaps the slopes and draws where the rocks seem to be most prevalent, concentrate the rainfall in areas that used to be streams and creeks of flowing water, providing more moisture for growth.
As the pictures depict: Big Blue seems to like the same areas as the shin oak prefers, much the same as a former post showed of Indiangrass. Granted the Big Blue pictured are young plants that have grown with the rare occurrence of this year’s almost ideal growing conditions. (Hopefully your area has been blessed with this ‘anomaly’.) It will be exciting to watch over time to see if these youngsters survive the drought like conditions that are sure to follow this growing event. With the continuation of the graze-rest program I am betting they do.
Found this specimen growing in the pasture this past week. It is a first for me, as I do not remember seeing it before. Come to find out it is a popular ground cover plant for gardeners and when I showed Ginger the photo her immediate comment was ‘You can bring that one home and plant it.’ (We have an ongoing battle with the plants I wish so plant around the house and those that she wants. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.) May take her up on this one.
Pigeon Berry is one of those perennial natives that is highly preferred by livestock and wildlife alike and perhaps another one of those positive rangeland health indicators. The beauty and resilience of well cared for, healthy rangelands is an awesome sight to see. Take care that the land you are associated with is protected and the tinder loving care of it is a priority. Do not let is get away.
Watching cattle graze and asking why they eat what they do, can be considered a waste of valuable time for some, but not when the manger is seeking to accomplish the goal of rangeland improvement and understanding why certain things are happening to the rangeland resource, the study can be quite interesting.
At first glance, what the cow, sheep or goat eats appears to be somewhat indiscriminate, as she has her head down and does not appear to be focusing on certain plants. However, when she bites into a plant that seems to have a better flavor-more succulent-easier to chew- more nutritious??-contain a particular nutrient that she is craving??, she will concentrate on that plant for a few moments then move to the next area. (One thing of note: The higher the density of grazing animals in a given area the less discriminant they are. Competition for grazing space can be an interesting aspect of how the grassland manager manipulates his livestock.)
What plants do they prefer? Why are some grazed shorter than others at first bite? (Switchgrass, Indiangrass, Kline grass, Sideoats and many others will have the top 1/3 to ½ of the plant grazed the first round. Other plants will be grazed to a noticeably short level up to 90% the first grazing even in good growing conditions, but then totally avoided during other times. (Old World Bluestems, Rough Tridens and Sand Drop Seed)
‘Take half leave half’ I wonder. Each plant appears to have developed growth characteristics that promote survival and adaptation to the grazing animal’s preferences. Grassland management is not an exact science. The many variables cause for numerous undeterminable equations.
THE BETTER IT GETS THE FASTER IT GETS BETTER.
Pictures depict Switchgrass prior to and after one day of grazing. It is a highly preferred grazing plant.
While many areas of West Texas are suffering through drought conditions, the excellent growing conditions some are experiencing this year are magnified on rangeland that has been under a properly applied graze-rest program. This photo, taken in western Sterling County, is one of the largest pure stands of native Switchgrass rangeland in memory. (Not planted or expensive land preparation utilized, only nature taking advantage of climatic and management conditions.) It is interesting that some Johnson Grass can be found in the immediate vicinity, but the Switchgrass is dominant and virtually a pure stand, bringing up questions of diversity in a native rangeland setting. Close observation shows some Sideoats scattered within the dense stand of Switch, resulting in expression of one of nature’s rules, DIVERSITY IS KING.)
The photo puts the imagination to flourishing about the wonderment of tales of long ago, about stirrup high grass and phenomenal stocking rates of the early cattlemen in the area. This Switchgrass savanna is in an overflow area and has stabilized the soil profile, making it very resistant to erosion. Think how heavy a rainfall event will have to be to create a flooding issue across this tributary of Lacy Creek and then it will run virtually clear water.
Will this newly created grassland sill be vibrant during the next ‘dry spell’? Certainly not as beautiful as the photo of today shows, but with careful planning and continued graze-rest that, dry spell will not be as significant of a drought as poorly grazed areas. (Perhaps will not be considered a drought at all.)
It will be interesting to watch the scattered Mesquite within the Switchgrass and see what its response to intense competition will be. Most likely those mesquites will remain small with continued healthy grazing management and PERHAPS few seedlings will survive or germinate.
Established Texas Winter Grass can provide an excellent area for higher succession plants such as Sideoats Gramma to take root and move the rangeland ecosystem forward, improving the drought resistance of the landscape. The partial shading of the soil allows limited available moisture to not be lost to evaporation, and the resulting ground litter from decay and animal trampling (Even the hated spear seeds) provide extra humus and slows water movement reducing the loss of rainfall due to runoff. All resulting in effective use of available rainfall. This positive scenario can provide excellent conditions for seedling establishment of higher succession plants that provide deep rooted, highly palatable drought resistant forage. This phenomenon is seldom seen under continuously grazed rangelands, but with a controlled graze-rest program the possibility is strong.
Zoom in on the photo to examine the ‘spear grass’ hulls remaining from the dropped ‘spears’ and take note of the excellent stand of Sideoats growing within the Winter Grass. Dual season grazing at its best or at least at the current succession level. It can get much better with even higher succession plants that will establish and flourish with continued tender loving care.
Bush Sunflower rarely seen on rangeland in our area, with the exception of the lonely one growing within an existing ‘bush’ such as skunk brush or any other low growing bush that protected the highly palatable bush sunflower form being grazed to ‘death’. Although the leaves and stems feel very harsh being somewhat scratchy and not being a particularly showy or pretty ‘weed’, livestock and wildlife alike readily graze it. Being a perennial plant having 26% to 31% protein in the early spring, its robust root system makes it a drought tolerant plant that can be an unbelievably valuable resource for rangeland health and the ranchman’s pocketbook. (A very opportune time to have a high protein source of forage available coming out of winter months.) The assumption that the bush part of the name was derived from its tendency to be found growing within a bush, is supposedly incorrect, as given the opportunity to flourish within a good grazing program it is said to develop a bush like appearance. (Still waiting to observe this.) As time goes by, on rangeland protected by a good graze-rest program, the plant is becoming ever increasing in prevalence like the one pictured below, without the ‘bush’ being present. (Young mesquite in picture being excepted) Areas that are under a continuous grazing program seldom have bush sunflower present other than those growing in a bush as referred to above. When numerous bush sunflowers are present, it is an excellent indicator of improving rangeland health.
Exciting things are happening on rangeland that has been properly cared for through utilization of a carefully planned and applied graze-rest program. The recent rainfall across the area, granted more in places than other, is proving exceptionally valuable on areas that have a continuous cover of healthy perennial grass plants. Even the places that received sparser amounts of moisture are showing amazing recovery from the limited rainfall of late winter and spring. Regretfully, but fully expected, the areas that have not recovered from past continuous and sometimes heavy grazing are struggling to achieve the growth needed to allow the rangeland manager to be assured of good grazing through the summer season. Leaving that producer dependent of “a good follow-up rain soon” of course all concerned will thankfully take it if the Lord sees fit to send it. Recovery of rangeland is a slow process and is directly proportional to the brittleness (Total rainfall and low humidity levels) of the environment the rangeland manager is working within.
Had the honor of making a presentation at the 2021 Hemphill County Beef Conference. One of the best county organized symposiums I have seen, learned much more than I had to offer. Andy Holloway and his Ag Committee did an outstanding job. The first session of my talk is below. A short ad is seen prior to my presentation, which depicts the quality of the Hemphill County symposium, the paid supporters of the program were recognized often.