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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8Iw0lXoeCA&fbclid=IwAR1ij2e5Blce2sA3DeOeWFIpR2UsSJDw1AOygytoKmObq4ZZ1HeXk7O6ibw&app=desktop

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

At This Point in Time What Difference Does it Make.

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.

 

Frank S Price

March 3, 2019

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.53184604_340545170002960_8303133155762634752_n1

Graze-Rest-Graze-Rest

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.IMG_0212(2)

Nature Set A Great Example to Follow

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-SeptemberIMG_0098(1)

Grazing Problems in the Southwest and How to Meet Them

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

Published 1899

https://archive.org/details/CAT90250224/page/n1/mode/2up

 

Mid-January photo: Grazed in October; Cool season grasses are responding well to rest period.IMG_0076

Ground Cover is Essential for Drought Resistance

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.DSC00937DSC00939

RC Factor & Traditions

Resistance to Change (RC) is a Limiting Factor Preventing Some Ranchmen Moving Forward with a Controlled Grazing Program.

As the understanding of how our rangelands were created and what has been the determining factor in rangeland degradation. (Poor grazing management practices.) Some question why everyone isn’t rapidly moving forward with grazing techniques that move our rangelands toward the ecologically pristine conditions early European man found when first seeing the amazing grasslands of the Great Plains. (Some ranchmen do not want to change their grazing techniques under any circumstance and that is fine, as our great Nation affords that decision to the individual operator to ‘voluntarily’ make that decision.) Change from the traditional way our forefathers grazed the land is perhaps the most difficult process for many to initiate, thus preventing consistent rangeland improvement and consistently profitable ranching operations. There is nothing wrong with honoring and continuing traditions that are time honored by the ranchman. However, when that tradition is found to be in error and might be the cause of the sustainable ranching operation fading into the ‘dust’, then change becomes a positive factor. The positive change resulting in the ranching operation being consistently profitable, along with creating truly sustainable rangelands will result in being able to continue with those acceptable time-honored traditions.

 

With the recent January rain, we hopefully are looking forward to a spring as the picture from the past shows.

14.23” for the year 2019 has made for a challenge this winter. Thankfully our grazing program has proven the worth of building drought resistance.IMG_0256(1)

Sustainable Rangelands & Profitability

It has been said that when the rangeland manager improves grasslands it is good for the environment but is not a profitable proposition and can only be accomplished by those that have considerable finances to fund the task. When the tools available are properly utilized this statement is nothing further from the truth.

 

Implementation of good grazing techniques, which is the first step in truly improving the health of our rangeland resource, will result in consistent and even lucrative profitability of a ranching operation. While many variables may or may not be addressed by the individual rangeland managers, here are several profit producing changes that should take place.

 

  1. When a single herd program is established, labor needed is greatly reduced per animal unit. As much as 50%
  2. When close attention is payed to rest-grazing periods influencing both warm and cool season grasses, supplemental feeding is reduced and sometimes results in no feeding over the course of the year.
  3. Internal and external parasites become less of an issue due to the long rest periods interrupting the life cycle of the parasites. As the health of the rangeland improves, this also seems to be a factor resulting in fewer parasite problems. (Positive competition from the massive amounts of micro-biomes living within the healthy soils is yet to be understood by the scientific community.)
  4. A properly designed grazing program involves much more than the graze-rest portion of the operation. Within a cow-calf operation, timing of calving-weaning and the proper handling of livestock reducing stress are important aspects of the operation.
  5. The breed, breed mix and cattle adapted to the rangeland operation can have a dramatic effect on a cow-calf operation.
  6. Consistent breed ups, percentage of calves per cow bred and weaning weight is not reduced with a properly applied program.

Think of the reduced labor, fuel, equipment and feed when the above process’ are used. Then factor in the ability to -over time- increase the grazing capacity of the rangeland and the opportunity for increased-consistent profitability become major factors in having a sustainable ranching operation.

 

 

Photo depicts prickly pear succumbing to processes that I do not understand. No chemicals used, burned two years ago and a single herd-long rest grazing program utilized.IMG_0155(1)

Correcting the Blame

IMG_0307(1)

Photo shows Big Bluestem establishing itself on a rocky upland site. Diversity of plant life is essential to a healthy rangeland, as is the density of coverage. This process takes time and patience is virtuous in the grazing mangers available tools for rangeland improvement.

Why has much of our rangeland become dominated by heavy brush? Why is the grazing capacity of much of our pastureland becoming less with each passing dry spell? Why does it seem that drought occurs more often and tends to be more severe than in the past? Why are our freshwater resources drying up, becoming harder to obtain? Why do a few rangeland managers address these issues and so many others not seem to grasp what is happening? Why are so many ranches being dispersed into small units, never to have the opportunity to be sustainable rangelands again? Why is profitability of a ranching operation so hard to consistently obtain and seems to only be a ‘dream’ for many producers?

 

Sounds like a young child asking questions that we adults don’t have a logical answer for, so we just avoid the answer and move on to a new topic. Of course, we ‘adults’, when asking those questions among other ‘grownups’ tend place the blame on others and other events, not looking at what we as individuals might be doing wrong. Upon finding the culprit, we blame them or at least what the perceived cause is and move on to a new topic, still not looking for practicable answers that most likely involve personal decisions that can only be corrected by that individual.

 

It is time we recognize what has happened to our rangeland and act. Not continue to put the blame on the effects not the cause. That cause is the result of poor grazing practices over time. (Yes, lack of fire may be a contributor to that cause, however poor grazing management is one of the causes of the loss of fire as a management tool.) Open discussion and acceptance of the fact that we all, (Ranchmen and scientists alike) have been working fervently to correct the effects and not that cause. Yes, the effects must be addressed, but without addressing the cause (Grazing management or the lack there of) we will never truly move forward to the point of correcting the environmental issues that directly affect everyone.

 

 

Rangeland Recovery Is Possible

Even during extended dry spells, Big Blue seems to turn up in surprising places when lots of TLC (Proper grazing management) is applied. Take a moment to think or at least dream of what the rangeland in your area looked like in the mid 1800’s, when tall grasses were dominant, and brush was limited to small areas that were not prone to wildfire events. From high rainfall areas to the limited rainfall of dryer brittle environments, it was bound to be a sight to behold. The tools and knowledge are available to at least begin to recreate those conditions. Planning and diligence can begin to move this ‘dream’ forward, however one thing is for certain:

If the rangeland manager is unwilling to utilize those ‘tools’ the process will never move forward.IMG_0109