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.
I’ll provide the second session at a later date.
Microbiome: Now that is a complicated word for a country boy that is very dependent of and thankful for Word and Spell Check. With all its complexity and lack of understanding, I am going to predict that the study, and understanding of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses and other one celled organisms) and the role they play in virtually every living thing, will ultimately be one of the most important discussions and understanding of the world we live in that modern science has ever taken on. Simply put microbes are everywhere, some are considered to be bad, but most are beneficial and are being found to be key combaters of the bad ones. Overall scientists are finding microbes are important to our health along with the health of livestock and the rangeland resource. (Early on many believed that virtually all microbes were bad and needed to die, thus the rampant use of antibiotics, that paradigm is changing quickly.)
As we begin to recognize how important soil health is to our rangeland resource and how positive change can quickly occur. It is also being seen that microbe activity within that soil profile are not only the result of good grazing management practices but given the opportunity those microbes move the soil health forward, thus making the rangeland that much more productive. Microbes along with ‘critters’ like earth worms and dung beetles are what breaks down manure, old grass, leaves and wood into humus and are also responsible for the wonderful aroma that fresh tilled soil produces. (Try sticking your finger into a heavily grassed area and smelling the dirt, then scratch that finger into bare soil. The difference in smell is very noticeable.) The trick is to provide an environment for those ‘little fellers’ to flourish. Bare ground and poor soil moisture are not the environment they need. Through a good grazing management program, the soil profile is improved so moisture is retained and a food source (decaying plant material) is available to those microbes. Once that process is established the soil profile begins to improve at an exponential rate- if the grazing program remains active- revert to a poor grazing management regimen and the process will cease, taking the condition of the rangeland back to its original depleted state.
Neat thing is we don’t have to buy any microbes from a dealer, all that is required is apply the proper management and the little critters do it on their own. Trash farming or no till as it known to some, can result in amazing transition. One farmer I know, after initiating his ‘trash farming’, took his tilled soil from 0.3% humus to 3.0% in just three years. Rangeland soil health improvement is very notable within a few years of instigating an effective grazing management program.
Improving cattle health has numerous opportunities with the use of microbial research not only for the digestive system but even the respiratory system. The understanding of these relationships of environment-plant-animal and human health and their relation to the microbes around us has great potential.
A good article suggesting these relationships can be found in Drovers Journal.
Another source of information is:
Engelmann or Cut Leaf Daisy in full bloom. The pasture pictured will not have livestock in it until May 15, plenty of time for the highly preferred grazing plant to secure its perennial root and reproduction systems, so that it can be available next year for increased grazing capacity. Yes, it will be grazed during a slightly different season the next grazing cycle.
Nature seems to always be looking for the best resolution when a challenge presents itself. The spring is no exception in the area that Sims ands I work. The photo depicts Huisache Daisy and Texas Filaree, both of which can provide greatly beneficial spring grazing for livestock and wildlife. The Huisache Daisy (Also known as Coke County Tallow Weed) is in full bloom, barely 2” high, including the bloom. The Texas Filaree is seeded out with the awns of the seed being twice the height of the leafy portion of the plant. (Take note of the sorting stick in the background.)
The promise of a flush spring after the December and January snows has faded into the glume of very sparse rainfall this spring. Yet instead of declaring a disaster nature has flexed into survival mode and is producing a seed crop despite depressing conditions. Wouldn’t it be nice if we humans had a consistently favorable-positive outlook on what is happening around us?
If this small piece of rangeland, with a well-designed and implemented Rest-Graze plan, had a good cover of perennial grasses and forbs this picture would have a more positive story to tell despite the limited rainfall.
Kit Pharo recently provided a quote written by Friedrich Nietzsche.
“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” ~
Grazing pastures noticeably short, while sometimes unavoidable, is not the best policy -even within a sound graze-rest program. The energy needed to provide the grass plant the ‘jump start’ that is needed to produce new growth after grazing is critical to rangeland health and the recovery from a grazing event. Question is: Where is that needed energy stored within the grass plant that is needed for recovery from grazing-fire-trampling-even mowing? The first assumption is the root system, but researchers have found that the stems, rhizomes and stolons are also involved in that reserve energy storage, not to mention the growth nodes of each particular species of grass. Some of which are at the ligule or juncture of the stem and leaf. Some would say do not graze the plant at all, that is a severe mistake in that it will die from lack of use. Creating the beginnings of a desert, primarily in dry low humidity areas.
Each family of grass seems to have its own way of surviving, some like Texas Bluegrass and Texas cup grass. Being bunch grasses, if grazed to the ground are extremely slow in putting on new growth when rainfall and or springtime permits a flush of greening. (Seem to green up and just ‘sit’ there producing little growth for considerable time. While their cousins that were not grazed close to the ground quickly put on new growth and flourish.) Others, like Buffalo grass seem to tolerate close grazing better, possibly because of the rhizomes it produces that grazing animals and fire cannot get to.
The net result of this little course in grass growth is to show the importance of utilizing a rangeland management program that encourages healthy root systems and above ground plant structure. Those managers that can produce this healthy ecosystem find themselves much more profitable due to the drought resistance and quick growth when the rains do come.
Excelling in grass land management is not a one approach fits all. It is a process that must address many factors.
Within the video link below find an excellent description of how this process works and a bible verse that is very descriptive of the process.
7 But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
First photo shows Texas Bluegrass that was grazed noticeably short in the fall. While showing to be healthy and growing it has achieved little leaf length when compared to the next photo of TBG that was not grazed short last fall.
Photos were taken same day, zoom in and notice the shape of the tips of the leaves. Pointed and cupped like the keel of a boat. An easy identifying characteristic of Texas Bluegrass.
Considerable discussion and comments to recent posts has been had as to who is responsible for our degraded rangelands and the continuation of that degradation. Perhaps it would be much more productive to identify what the cause of this loss of rangeland productivity is and how to resolve that cause. Once this has been accomplished, perhaps finding those responsible would be in order. Be careful though, as each of us probably has been part of the problem, whether it be producer, scientist, extension, or politician. Everyone involved in caring for the rangeland is responsible to some degree, blame will not resolve the problem. This is true with virtually every problem locally, nationally and personally. Placing blame seldom resolves an issue. Establishing the cause and treating it the best resolution, treating symptoms is only a temporary fix.
A very telling difference between the two photos below. First is one day after deep freeze this past month. Cattle fared the storm well although the rangeland is very slow in recovery.
Second photo was taken 1st on March last year. Ranching is only predicable in one way in West Central Texas. IT WILL BE DRY MORE OFTEN THAN NOT!
The recent rains and snows have added wonderful moisture to the stressed rangelands in our area. Being winter moisture coming on rangelands that have received no moisture since September 10 last year, the rangeland response has been slow in coming. Those operators that have healthy summer and cool season perennials will receive positive results over time, but patience is in order. Those that have pushed their grazing operations to the point of little cover of healthy perennial plants and little to no cover of litter over the soil will regretfully receive small benefit. As the bare ground will not be able to store the moisture and most will evaporate. (Additional rains would certainly be of great benefit to all.) Yes, winter weeds like Texas Filaree are making a showing even on those bare soil areas and will provide some desperately needed grazing later in the winter. However, those operations that have developed those strong rooted grasses and good cover will enjoy some recovery from dry conditions even if further moisture is limited. Cool season perennials like Texas Bluegrass, Canada Wildrye and yes Texas Winter Grass will soon have beneficial grazing for those animals being moved to fresh pasture. Those operations that do not have fresh-rested pastures to move to, will suffer the economic trials of increased feeding of purchased products. An expensive process at best.
Picture shows a Claret Cup Cactus or possibly Hedgehog Cactus. (I will leave the final call on name to plant guru’s that are much more qualified to ID. Special thanks to Kent Ferguson and Mark Moseley for their help in providing me possible names.) The one pictured is by far the largest I have ever observed and perhaps the first, being some 2.5’ across and 12” or so tall. Looking forward to catching it in bloom, as it might be an awesome site.
Note that the prickly Pear is considerably dense at this site. I am not too concerned about it, as close by am seeing signs of it dying in large areas of natural causes. It will be interesting to watch and see if the Hedgehog is affected by this phenomenon.
The Better it Gets the Faster it Gets Better.
In January of 2018, after the burn pictured below, Sims and I were making one last circle of a 1,300 acre burn about 20 minutes before sundown.
With the help of NRCS’s EQIP program, a 500-foot strip cleared of volatile fuels on the downwind side of the burn had been put in a few years prior to the burn. 8 people were able to complete the entire burn, black line included, in one day. First torch was lit at 10:00 AM, final head fire was set at 3:00 PM. Note we were not in a hurry and used proper protocol of burn initiation, but the cleared area makes burns much safer and allows for fewer personnel to move quickly and efficiently.
OK, back to the story. Sims and I were on the north side of the burn entering a wide draw area. To our surprise both Blue and Bobwhite quail were entering the burned area by the hundreds. (Perhaps thousands, but I’ll stay with the hundreds) Covey after covey were flying in front of and over us, landing in the burned area-indiscriminate of species- scurrying about on the burned ground. In wonderment we stopped momentarily and observed what was taking place. Sims noted that he had seen small beetles moving about on the burned ground earlier in the day, possibly disrupted from their winter homes in the ground. Perhaps the birds were in a feeding frenzy? (Sorry, we took no pictures of the event and moved on quickly to finish our task of being sure the burn was safe prior to dark.) Looking back on what we saw and after talking with others more familiar with quail, we-perhaps, witnessed an event that few have the opportunity to see. The question I have is how did the quail-both Bobs and Blues- know to return to the burned area so soon after the fire? Did a few venture into the burned area and find the food source to be exceptionally good, then return to the displaced coveys and say “Hey guys you will never believe what I have found, let’s go get ‘em”? Some might say it was “instinct”, a trait bred into the birds after centuries of living in a fire culture. I don’t know, but it was a sight to behold and I wish a trained quail man had been there to talk us through the event.
After contemplating on this viewed event, I have developed a theory of my own. (Keep in mind this is just a theory from an untrained eye and I welcome thought from others.) The burn was done is several stages, even to the point of having 6 head fire ignitions. (As a general rule we prefer to ignite a single head fire to achieve the intensity of fire that is most beneficial to suppressing both cedar and prickly pear, however this burn had several well-traveled roads running through it and we were dealing with less that preferred quantities of fine fuel. -Grass- Overall, we were satisfied with this tactic. One must keep in mind that no two prescribed burns are alike, the fire boss must always be considering the conditions of each burn on an individual basis.) Back to my theory, with each head fire initiation the fire moved the quail away from that fire, putting them into the area not burned. Each time we burned a new area the quail were concentrated that much more.
Finally, when we burned the last head fire area the quail were moved into the draw on the north side of the burn. In effect we unwittingly ‘gathered’ the quail, somewhat like one would gather a pasture of livestock. Sims and I happened to pass by that area at the precise time the quail began to move back to their home territory. (I am told quail spend their lives within a very few acres and I don’t doubt their homing instinct is every bit as strong as most other ‘critters’ in natures domain.) On their way home, they discovered the ‘windfall’ of insects that had been displaced due to the burn. Of course, the reader of this must accept that my imagination can ‘get away with itself’ at times.
The pear shown here is ‘wounded’ at best, but it is a start and with grass density increasing after the burn, good grazing management following in subsequent years, perhaps it is on the way out. In particular with a ‘follow-up’ burn in a few years. (True a treatment with chemicals would do away with the pear issue quickly, but that is not an option as the owner of the property is unwilling to make that kind of investment. Natural control is the current policy.) We had some excellent cedar flaring in other areas of the burn, of course it was Red Berry, so it is suppressed not killed.
On page 186 of Dr. Larry Butler’s book ‘OUT ON THE LAND’ he writes within a subchapter about three categories or major purposes of conservation practices.
- Vegetation management practices are directly concerned with vegetation use and growth.
- Prescribed grazing to balance forage supply with animal demand.
- Flexible scheduling and daily management designed to achieve desired objectives.
- Accelerating practices supplement management practices
- Pasture planting.
- Weed control.
- Range seeding.
- Brush management.
- Facilitating practices control or influence the movement and handling of grazing animals.
- Water development
Dr. Butler goes on to describe the necessity of practicing vegetation management and without it, other practices may not be in the true spirit of conservation.
The problem of our rangeland degradation is the result of lack of use of item 1 Vegetation management practices, without curing the cause of the problem the accelerating practices and facilitating practices are ultimately of little value to the conservation of our rangelands. True, in the short term one will think he has accomplished great conservation goals, but in the long term the same issues will return without a sound-properly applied GRAZE-REST program.
This photo depicts the current cold spell prior to falling moisture. (Fog and cold only) The wire of the power line is sagging to the point that the bottom line is well within the mesquite tree’s limbs. When the hot wire on the top gets into the tree it will not be a positive result.
Maybe global warming will resolve the issue. Could be that the Lord is showing us who is in control.
BE CAREFUL OUT THERE.
More information about Larry’s book can be found at www.outontheland.com
The many attributes of making ranching one’s life profession are numerous -quality of life-pride in accomplishment-honoring and participating in long honored traditions- the list can go on for pages, but the opportunity to raise the kids and grandkids in an atmosphere that will develop life skills that can carry on for generations is the most valuable of all. My ranching career has produced many eventful-successful accolades, the success, and ethics of my children and now grandchildren is the grandest, most humbling success of Ginger and I’s life.
Fewer and fewer true ranching operations are still active in the Central and West Texas area and the time-honored traditions and quality ranch kids are dwindling quickly. One must ask; What has happened in the fast-paced modern world resulting in this loss? Consistent profitability of the ranching operation is possibly the largest factor in this loss. (Why would the next generation wish to remain on the ranch when he cannot make a living doing so?) Those ranchers that have recognized the potential in repairing the rangeland resource, moving toward what nature provided prior to mans abuse and mining of our grasslands resource. This resource provides the nutrition to grow those grazing plants and provide livestock and wildlife the nutrition to flourish, makes the water cycle sustainable and retains carbon in the soil where it belongs. The key to that repair is a grazing management program so often referred to by me, without that tool all other ‘repair’ methods will ultimately fail. Perhaps not for those that do not make profitability to be their primary goal, but then again that lack of consistent profitability is a large contributor to the ‘ranch kids’ decline.
There is much more to a profitable ranching operation than simply good range management application. The operation must be treated with a business approach including all aspects of the operation including quality of life-sustainability-social interaction within the community.