In previous posts I have talked of the prickly pear reducing in canopy coverage over a considerable portion of the rangelands that Sims and I work. I wish a qualified scientist would come along and interpret what is happening, but while waiting for this fellow, here is my opinion.
I have observed the pear beetles that are shown in third picture for most of my life. Taking note that the damaged pear pads they create while feasting on the plant tend to die over time, the entire plant always seemed to remain growing. With little grass surrounding the plant I assumed the pear had some sort of mechanism that prevented the grass from growing next to and within the plant itself. These assumptions appear to be wrong.
As the controlled grazing program has increased the density and vigor of the grasses and their resulting strong root systems, the pear is succumbing to that competition. The pear beetles and perhaps other disease issues damage the pear plant and the grasses take over. (Poor little beetles may be eating their way out of a home.) Prescribed fire certainly can move this process forward faster but does not appear to be a critical factor. Rangelands that have not had a fire placed on them are showing the same decline in pear coverage although not as fast or perhaps complete. Even those pear pads that are broken off and fall to the ground do not take root, as they fall on a turf of grass and litter that prevents the ground- soil-moister contact that implements the new root growth.
One thing is for certain, without the implementation and continued use of a sound grazing management plan the grasses would never reach the density level that makes this process work.
The better it gets the faster it gets better.
Bare soil seldom assists nature in moving forward the many ‘gifts’ she has to offer when referring to healthy rangeland. Conversely, soil cover is what she asks for to move the rangeland forward to a healthy environmentally productive state. Cover of the soil is generally a simple process, as it may be perennial grass/forbs and the root systems associated with them, it may be litter being, old decaying plants and it might be annual plants that at least offer a start to healthy rangeland. Hopefully a combination of the above are what we as rangeland managers can offer what the Lord created in the form of nature. Without those tools erosion and drought will prevail, reducing our rangeland resource to potentially desertifying ruin. Taking the time to understand the processes and properly applying them, is certain worth the effort and the ranching operation can realize consistent profitability during the process.
A WIN-WIN DEAL.
Diversity of plants is very important within healthy rangelands. Picture shows Canada Wildrye, Side Oats, Big Blue. Indian Grass and many other plants. Albeit within what used to be nothing more than a ‘Rock Pile’.
Hooded Windmill Grass
Hooded Windmill Grass is finding a higher place in my book of preffered grasses. Livestock seem to preffer grazing it to many other dormant mid grasses and provided a good grazing program has allowed its root system to be strong & healthy – when a little rain comes along it is among the first to green up.
Zoomed in photo reveals relatively close grazing and green shoots after a recent small rain. A long rest period will provide oportunity to fully recover and become yet stronger, providing ‘insurance’ for the next dry spell.
Proper grazing managemant is the best drought management tool available.
There is little doubt that man has always had an influence over the environment, or at least since man first appeared on the scene. In many cases his influence has been negative, utilizing The Lords creations to his benefit, mining the resources available and paying little attention to the long-term effects of his use of those resources. In the beginning man was only concerned with survival and justifiably so, the resources available to him were what seemed an infinite inventory of tools to survive, all he had to do was figure out how to utilize the many things available to him. Over time as he developed those mental skills necessary to become proficient at survival, he began advancing a culture and sought to build a quality life for he, his family and the community surrounding him. All the while ‘mining’ the resources available to him as they seemed to be endless in availability. History is littered with failed nations and cultures that used or mined the land resource to the point that the soils he was using deteriorated, from loss of fertility and erosion to the point that the culture failed from starvation or political dissatisfaction that ultimately destroyed the cultural infrastructure that had been sought by its people. Yet, there were a few cultures that very early on in the history of man, recognized the need to build soils. Creating terraces, adding manure back to the soil, fallowing the land and rotating crops. The Mayans and Incas were some of these people, yet those talents were greatly lost over time. (Discussing what happened to these cultures will be deferred to another time.)
As the world has arguably been populated in all sectors, there are no longer new lands to move to and develop so that man can exploit and mine the soil to the point of destruction. For man to survive, it must be recognized that soil is a renewable resource, that when nurtured by man, can produce ever more productive crops, livestock and environmentally sustaining benefits to the world we reside in. It is not necessary for man to till or graze the land to the point of severe erosion and near total loss of fertility of those soils. It is not necessary for man to accept the argued premise that CO2 will become an environmentally unacceptable detriment to the world we depend on for survival. Man must recognize that he has caused the severe depletion of the soil resource and that he can begin to make a difference in recovering what has been lost.
Keeping in mind The Lords plan was to rest the land every 7th year (Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:4) As the practice of the art and science of grazing management is utilized more and more by rangeland managers the tools to truly make a difference in rangeland soil recovery to the point of regaining the ecosystems found by early man. The cow and in some applications sheep and goats, are an integral part of this reclamation. (Animal impact is extremely necessary for rangeland recovery and maintenance.) Those that understand and observe this process working in real time need to tell the story to those that seem to think the cow is bad for the land. As she is one of the basic tools to recover the lost soils that we so poorly managed in the past.
Photo was taken in early October, well before frost and cold weather. Dry conditions will be a challenge going into the winter months.
While planning for winters grazing program, factor into the equation that the quality of the grass may not be at the level the West Central Texas rancher may be accustomed to. Excellent moisture in late winter-spring and early summer provided excellent-rapid growth. This rapid growth may have produced forage that is not of high quality, resulting in a protein deficient feed source for livestock. (Some of the weaning weights are reflecting this, as the weights are not what was expected.) Without fall rains to ‘freshen’ the summer grasses we could be in for a tough winter. Of course, if the cool season perennials have been cared for, late fall and winter moisture can be an excellent ‘supplement’ to the mature summer grasses.
Proper care of cool season perennials is just as important as care for the warm season ones (At least in the area that I work in.) We can’t make it rain. We can only prepare for the possibility that it might not. Then when it does rain, proper grazing management can assist in quickly moving forward the grazing-livestock program.
The Big Blue pictured here has struggled with the lack of summer moisture this year as all plants have. It has produced very little seed and shows lack of vigor, as does the Indian Grass at the top portion of the picture. (Will have to zoom in to see it.) However, it is exciting to see that those two grasses have produced some regrowth from the late spring grazing, most other grasses have been in a brown-dormant state all summer. Take note that this picture is on a rocky hill side, Big Blue and Indian are adaptable to many range sites, not just the deep soiled areas. In fact, it has been my observation that the shallow-rocky sites are the first to reveal these two ‘ice-cream’ plants.
This past summer I had the privilege of giving a presentation at the Texas Wildlife Association’s annual convention. Visiting with various owners of smaller places that have no interest in raising livestock proved very educational. Some expressed that after buying very degraded ranches that had been abused for years by failing ranching enterprises, rest from grazing was phenomenal in rangeland recovery for the first five to ten years. Then after that recovery period the rangeland seemed to start going backwards. The grasses were becoming what appeared to be old and dying, bare soil was becoming more evident and erosion was increasing after what was originally believed to be a phenomenal recovery of the land. My discussion during the presentation was about continual improvement to the rangeland resource well over the ten years that they had experienced. This led to discussion of what was happening to those rested (over rested) places.
Grass plants need disturbance to produce growth nodes and tillers for new growth. Once a grass plant matures without impact from some outside source, (breaking off the old leaves-trampling them to the ground-burning them off-biting them off etc.) the plant goes into a ‘neutral’ mode that ultimately reduces the plant to a moribund state that does not produce new tillers and growth nodes. This results in a slow death from the center of the plant outwards. A well-planned grazing program, utilizing cattle and other livestock to intensely graze the plants then providing extended rest periods is a very effective way of reversing this issue.
The picture below is of ‘a very lonesome’ Switch grass plant. (Only one I have found within this pasture.) Cattle were moved out 29 days ago and the current dry conditions reflect slight growth the plant has achieved in this length of time. However, note the lack of green of the other grasses, this expresses the drought mitigating characteristics of deep rooted-healthy tall grasses. Continuous grazing would destroy any hope of increasing the coverage of the Switch grass.
Of other interest is the pictures skeletal remains of what I believe to be Horse Nettle. The leaves have been stripped off these plants and as pastures that have not been grazed show no signs of this, I assume the cattle did the stripping. No health issues have been observed, so poisoning is not at issue. I do note that I have observed several other ‘poisonous’ plants grazed by livestock over the years and assume that limited grazing of these ‘bad’ plants is not necessarily a bad thing. Smaller Perennial Broom Weed is one of the others and I suspect percentage of diet is a major factor.
Studying the rangeland and seeking to understand what and why certain things are happening is fascinating.
The huge buffalo herds of the past are accepted to be one of the factors in creating and maintaining the superior rangeland conditions prior to European mans coming to the Americas. With today’s fragmentation of the rangeland ecosystem (Roads-highways, cities, transmission lines, pipelines, farms, fenced rangelands the list goes on and on.) the roaming herds of buffalo are no longer part of the equation. (Nor will they ever be.) This results in a problem in trying to reestablish those rangelands of the past. The need for animal impact is very important to create grasslands that are healthy, providing an ecosystem that is actively preventing erosion, creating a water cycle that is efficient and sequestering carbon reducing CO2 levels.
What tool do we have available that can replace the buffalo of the past? That tool is the cow, properly managed she provides that trampling, dung and urine depositing, grazing stimulation that nature needs to provide the environment with quality-healthy stimulation. The great thing is while that cow can provide all those good things for the environment, she also provides a healthy source of protein for the human population. Those folks that say the cow needs to go because she harms the environment need to reassess their opinion and study what the cow truly has to offer. If for no other reason than ‘Saving the Planet’ as many detractors of the cow say so often.
Those that understand how a quality environment works, need to offer their knowledge to those environmental enthusiasts that so often misinterpret the value of the cow. Everyone can live better because of it and sharing our knowledge with the voting public is essential. Sharing that knowledge with politicians has merit, needing to be offered to them so they can’t deny knowledge of the value of the cow. However, many of those politicians seem to have an agenda that isn’t focused on the environment, as discussion of it is only made to get the voters unknowing attention. Get the word out to the voters, the cowman and rangeland manager has a long term, simple solution to many environmental issues, that is when those tools are properly applied.
Several articles have recently been published about the efficiency of fenceline weaning. Sims and I have been practicing this management tool for several years and I can assure any cow-calf producer that it works and works well. Simple to accomplish if the cow herd has been trained in low stress handling practices. Simply gather herd, strip off calves and return calves to original pasture placing cows in adjoining pasture. After seven to ten days we consistently experience one pound per day gain on the weaned calves. No hay, only rangeland grass and a little training cake so that the calves will know how to eat and respond to a man operating a feeder. No dusty pens to deal with and virtually no health issues.
I know of one operator in the area that does not precondition his calves, only fenceline weans and after 10 days ships them to the new owner. The calves have gained around 10 pounds, no longer bawl or walk the fence. On shipping day, he does not have to strip calves, only walks them into the pen sexes them if necessary, weighs and puts them on the truck. Any producer can benefit from this program regardless of size operation. (20 pair or 500 it works.) May be a bit scary the first time, but that becomes a none issue with planning and good livestock management.
While weaning is an exciting-satisfying time for the cow calf producer, it needs to be considered the most important time to evaluate next year’s calf crop. (Don’t relax now as next year’s calf crop is in the balance.) How the ranchman determines availability of pasture, synchronizing the cow herd numbers with the land resource grazing plan for the next 12 months, can be the difference between a ‘wreck’ and a productive-profitable-happy year. Sitting down and thinking through pasture quality and how to bring the cattle through winter with body condition scores that lead to a strong healthy calf crop and breed up. Doing this without having a feed bill that will cause financial stress to the ranching program can be a very daunting task. Simply saying we’ll do it just like we have always done, is probably not the best answer. Yes, that answer is the most common approach for many producers, but the time spent in the office planning where the program is headed is the most valuable time a ranchman can utilize for the consistent profitability and rangeland resource improvement of his operation.
Detailed planning isn’t the most ‘romantic’ part of a ranching enterprise, but it certainly leads to those romantic results that make a rancher proud.
Granted this picture is of only one calf, but he stands out as what our program is striving to produce. Healthy-productive-happy calves and grasslands that, in spite of a dry summer are capable of seeing the program through the winter season.