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.
Audio podcast of presentation made at the National Society of Range Management meeting in Denver, topic of discussion was about practical rangeland management Art or Science and the ability to merge the two. A lengthy discussion but some of you might enjoy what we had to offer.
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.
This post from the past is a relevant as ever. As continued studies of the Native Americans past are conducted, it is being found that their presence in the America’s is much longer than previously thought and the cultures and vast populations of those various tribes has arguably been a deciding factor in our ecological past. We will probably never truly know what influence they had, but one thing is for certain. –The history of the future of our rangeland resource is not only in the Lords hands, but present-day mankind. — Think what the Rangeland Manager might do to influence the health of it.
At This Point in Time What Difference Does It Make?
While taking some graduate students on a tour of one of our grazing operations. (‘King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management’s Master of Science in Ranch Management Program’ Any young-ambitious, potential ranch manager can benefit greatly from this program. Applications are available at http://krirm.tamuk.edu/masters-program/) One of the students stated that it appeared I was trying to work the rangeland much the same as when the Buffalo, Elk, Antelope and other large ungulates did when man wasn’t an influence on the wildlife and rangeland. My answer was yes, but do we really understand how that assumed ecologically pristine environment really operated? We tend to think the Buffalo grazed heavily and moved on to graze fresh land, not to return for an extended time. Probably true, but what about all the numerous other species of animals that the rangeland supported? (The Lewis and Clark expedition marveled at the large numbers of wildlife present almost uninterrupted over the western landscape they explored.) One thing is for certain: The animals, grasses, forbs, soil microbes and countless other ‘critters’ developed over time with the strongest adaptors to the environment being the dominant survivors that the millennia produced, with natures heavy hand assisting. (Survival and adaptation of the fittest.) Keep in mind that archeological studies have found that humans (The native American Indians) came onto the American scene some 11,000 to 12,000 years ago. During this time period the last ice age ended, along with the extinction of the mammoth-short faced bear and others. Some give the newly arrived humans credit for their extinction, true are not, we need to study and understand what has happened.
According to one modern politician “At this point in time what difference does it make”. That is not an acceptable position to take, seeking to understand what has happened is important and gives us the wisdom as to how to approach the future. There is no doubt that man’s presence in the Americas has greatly influenced the ecological condition of our rangelands. – I’ll leave the determination of whose fault it is to others; Native Americans? The coming of Europeans? The reintroduction of the horse by the Spaniards? All of the above?- What nature developed over the millennia prior to mans influence is what produced the living organisms that we have to work with. If it is man’s wish to return to those assumed pristine days of yore, it is up to us to understand why our rangelands are in their current condition, then assist nature in recovering the environment that existed prior to man’s influence. There is little doubt that man has gained tremendously from that unspoiled resource the Americas offered upon his arrival. There is also little doubt that man has caused tremendous change to that natural resource, usually at great loss to what nature created. We as rangeland managers have the beginnings of a knowledge base to influence the correction of some of these travesties and owe it to our creator and for that matter the sustainability of our operations to try and return to those pristine levels.
Nothing is stagnant within nature. It is a continual evolution of change, always has been and always will be. Man can influence that change possibly more than any one source. (With the exception of the Lord of whom Nature is one of his most notable assistants.) When man works with nature, change for the better is always possible. We have the knowledge and energy to set this in motion, as many grassland producers are doing at this time. Many variations of grazing management are currently showing exciting results. Most all utilize some version of a graze-rest management program, just as the pre-man natural culture utilized.
Vine mesquite and dead prickly pear. Mmmm! Pear just couldn’t compete. No chemicals used here.
Of the many resolutions to rangeland degradation, utilizing a relatively simple process of a continuing graze-rest program is the key ingredient. This process can be as intense as the rangeland manager wants it to be and granted the more intense a properly designed program is the faster the recovery of the rangeland. Some producers get trapped into thinking the only way to achieve recovery goals is to quickly move to an intensive grazing program, thus that producer many times elects to not do anything resulting in the recovery process never beginning.
A very effective approach is to begin slowly, utilizing a simple graze-rest program, then when that producer becomes comfortable in that simple approach, he can move to a more complex one if he so desires. The biggest hurdle is getting started by letting go of some of the time-honored traditions and initiating that graze-rest process is a giant step in beginning the recovery of the rangeland resource.
Picture is of a specimen of Canada Wild Rye. Excellent winter growth while being rested from a fall grazing. It will provide excellent grazing when the rest period moves to the scheduled graze period.
The Better it Gets the Faster it Gets Better.
Is drought more prevalent today within the Great Plains than when European man arrived in the Americas? According to tree ring studies that is not the case. Several droughts of the pre-European’s tenure were much longer and more severe than imaginable to modern man. Yet the rangeland and its plant life adapted to those harsh conditions.
Is drought more severe now than it was early on? Yes, without a doubt, the loss of much of the healthy rangelands continuous cover of the soil by the grasses-forbs-browse and their deep-healthy root systems reduced much of our once healthy rangelands to bare soil, unhealthy plants with shallow roots. Thus, the rangeland is affected by shortage of rainfall much quicker that when nature was in total control.
Why did this happen? Disruption of nature’s well adapted solutions to the influence of continually changing climatic conditions. Loss of herding effect of the huge herds of wildlife, loss of those herds moving to fresh grazing not to return to grazed areas for considerable time, fragmentation of the rangelands and above all poor grazing practices of livestock grazers that did not understand what was happening.
Can this drought issue be changed? We cannot go back to those pristine days of the past, but we can cause our rangeland to make considerable strides to recovering from the effects of drought. The answer is relatively simple with the initiation of sound grazing policies that emphasize the use of animal impact and rest-recovery from that animal impact.
Following Natures Time Tested Example-Process is the Key Ingredient.
After the extended dry of no rainfall from May thru September of this past year deep roots and dense grass cover provide (Although somewhat wilted) green grazing forage. Photo taken mid-September
As the studies of rangeland degradation and improvement move forward (Or backward according to some). We all need to seek out the cause of our loss of pristine rangeland conditions found when ranchmen first began to graze livestock on those lands. I recently came across a USDA publication published in 1899, it focuses on rangelands in the exact area that I have the privilege in ranching. The publication is a short read of 48 pages and gives a very good rendition of past events and what might be done to improve or at least return to the excellent grazing capabilities of our rangelands.
Below I have provided the web address of the publication. It is free and an easy read, while you are reading it remind yourself that it was written by a man living within the era of the beginning of the large-scale grazing of the rangeland. I found myself having to ‘pinch’ myself on a regular basis to remind me that it was written in 1899.
While I do not agree with everything Smith has to say, his facts and theories are compelling and anyone dealing with the rangelands of our great nation should study his thoughts carefully.
Grazing Problems in the Southwest and How to Meet Them
By Jared G. Smith
Mid-January photo: Grazed in October; Cool season grasses are responding well to rest period.
Ground cover, both litter and dense perennial grasses, is invaluable during the frequent dry periods of West Central Texas. (Or any other area for that matter.)
The small showers of the past few weeks have resulted in excellent growth of cool season grasses within these areas, while just a few feet from this promising forage growth the bare ground is showing no green except for a few small ground hugging weeds. These areas don’t just happen, it takes good grazing management to produce this scenario on a scale large enough to provide needed forage for the livestock enterprise.
The perennial Canada Wildrye and annual Rescue Grass are found within the pictures. Note the annual broomweed in the pictures. It does not appear to have been detrimental to the health of the grassland ecosystem, even provided some cover and seeds for the quail. (If there are any to be found.)
Second picture shows a transition from bare ground to healthier range site.