Healthy riparian areas have great value including soil stabilization of creek banks, water quality, habitat for fish-wildlife-insects and the microbiome that flourishes above and beneath the soil. When cared for properly not only are those sites beautiful, the positive environmental repercussions are tremendous.
Much time and study has been given as to how to enhance those precious resource areas of the rangeland. It seems that most of time the suggested treatment is to fence the area out from livestock grazing. While I have not had the opportunity to observe many of those fenced out areas, I do have the privilege of observing riparian areas that have not been fenced out and are simply part of a planned grazing program. (Properly applied animal impact should never be ruled out of any rangeland management program, as it is one of the key components creating a successful rangeland management program.) While the riparian areas within the ecosystem of West Central Texas tend to eb and flow rather dramatically as to the amount of water present, properly grazed areas seem to continually improve- regardless of the amount of rainfall God blesses us with.
Results of a riparian area within one of those ‘properly grazed’ areas. After being grazed for 25 days, cattle were removed from this pasture some 40 days ago and will be rested for 225 days. Make note of the large Switchgrass plant at start of video and the Redberry Cedar at the end. The Cedar shows the current water level is above normal, many other plants seen indicate a consistent water source. (Cat Tails-Button Bush-Sedges-and many more)
THE BETTER IT GETS THE FASTER IT GETS BETTER.
Old World Bluestem continues to show excellent ‘vertical’ growth after removal of cattle 32 days ago. If you zoom in- it is beginning to put on seed heads, another week should reveal considerable seed production. Now as to the Indiangrass in center of photo, it has achieved 2, 3 maybe 4 times the growth of the OWB. From recent posts of same plants, the Indian and OWB were grazed to approximately the same height. While this photo does not adequately reveal the increasing density of the Indian, close observation provides knowledge that many young plants are making headway.
An analogy can be made that OWB can be a very productive forage producer when a properly applied grazing program is utilized. However, don’t get too attached to it, as the Indiangrass just might overtake its dominance. (And some say I am not an optimist!) As for me I’ll take the diversity and with the rangeland grass managers caring hand and natures awesome influence, the improving rangeland resource appears to be secure.
Take note of the dense Texas Wintergrass at top of picture. As it has matured, the strong winds of West Texas have thrashed the spears, and is currently dispersing the tall seed stalks, what remains underneath those mature ‘Spear Grass’ plants reveal what summer grazing season has in store for us. More on this next time.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if ONLY FACTS were used to address the degraded condition of our natural resources and the environment that is largely influenced by those resources? So many times, emotions and ill formed perceptions are considered the key to recovery of our environment and the facts are lost in the process. Granted, facts are extremely elusive these days, as one can find just about any “FACT” on the internet and social media that the reader wants to believe.
As we advance our understanding and implementation of effective grazing programs, the recovery of our rangeland resource is nothing short of phenomenal. The effective rangeland manager has the privilege to observe how soil erosion is becoming a thing of the past, how soil health is improving much quicker than most dreamed possible. With that improvement in soil health it is quite evident that carbon is being sequestered within that healthy soil, microbe activity seems to instantly come to life. (You can smell the healthy soils.) Water is being stored by those healthy soils and little is lost to runoff or evaporation, lessoning the damaging effects of drought. Animal health is good with seldom need for use of antibiotics and the need for pesticide use is minimal, and in some cases, no longer needed. (Granted those rangeland managers are a long way from having every aspect of rangeland recovery at the level he would like, and most likely will never get to that premiere level of land management.) All these things are exactly what the environmental movement says they want. The problem is, very few if any of the effective rangeland managers are considered qualified scientist and have no ‘certifiable’ knowledge base to document the exciting results of a properly applied grazing management and animal welfare production program. Thus, the ‘FACTS” that he has to offer are without credence, unless one considers the opportunity to show -on the ground- what is happening.
This is what I was referring to in my past post ‘Fake Meat and The Green New Deal’. Given the opportunity, we must let our story be known to others. Yes, as some of the comments received point out, one must be careful how this is done. When showing or commenting on environmental issues, at the upper levels, proper media training is essential, and the support of well-prepared professionals is essential, but it can and should be done. (While the ‘good old boy’ approach works well for us country folks, the producer must recognize that the within the political realm everybody is a professional and have been trained to be so.)
Preventing the implementation of uniformed environmental policy just could save our environment from the scenario the proponents of the “Green New Deal” are predicting. Potentially, if the ‘Green New Deal’ proposals were to be implemented, the environment would be the one that suffered most. Of course, one must wonder if the environment is primary reason for the authors writing this proposal or is it just a front to justify their ultimate goals. Whatever those goals may be. (I am trying to stay away from politics and deal with the facts. So, you can determine what the ultimate goals might be.)
For your viewing pleasure:
This creek has been flowing crystal clear water for over 9 months now. Two 50 to 100-year flood events ‘redesigned’ a considerable portion of this creek, reestablishing the riparian-pristine conditions will take time. What a blessing the Lord has provided. And the grassland manager needs to do his part in caring for His gifts: Providing a bit of properly applied-well planned grazing management only assists the Lord in his plan.
The better it gets. The faster it gets better!
May have found an alternative use for Old Word Bluestems.
While observing young Indiangrass plants in an area dominated by Old Word Bluestems, it was noted that virtually all the young Indian plants were growing within the clumps of OWB’s which are considered a ‘bunch’ grass. The various bare ground sites surrounding the OWB’s do not show signs of Indian germination or establishment. (Bare ground it a result of the dominance of the OWB, bunch grasses do not have tillers or rhizomes.) Of note, the OWB was dying that the Indian had established itself within. MMMMmmm. What if we have found a way to reduce the population of OWB and increase the Indiangrass at the same time?
Some of you ‘professionals’ feel free to offer your thoughts. This is a new one for me, and perhaps I am miss reading it. Take the time to zoom in so you can differentiate between the Indian and OWB.
1st picture shows Indian and OWB two days after cattle were removed. Both were heavily grazed in the short time the cattle were present.
2Nd picture shows young Indian growing within the center of a OWB. Using it as a HOST plant?
3rd picture shows a developed Indian plant that has dominated the OWB, perhaps killing it?
I was recently involved in a discussion about when to rest a pasture after completing a brush management practice. The first response was to rest the pasture for the entire growing season. That resulted in another question. Which growing season? This caused a bit of confusion among the group, as most considered the growing season to be from spring green-up to fall when growth of warm season grasses ceases. (Good for warm season plants, but what about the cool season ones.)
If you are fortunate to ranch in an area where the climate permits cool and warm season grass growth, deferment from grazing during that cool season growth period may be as important as rest during the warm season. If the grazing manager hopes to build a program that does not require feeding of the livestock anything other than the forage that is raised on the rangeland, warm and cool season plants must be as vigorous as possible. (No cake-no hay-no tubs-no blocks) Some consider this an impossible task without severe reduction in animal performance. This is incorrect as ranching operations from several regions of the nation have accomplished it. Including West Central Texas.
The next issue raised during the conversation was: Is rest for one season enough after brush management or should it be a continuing rest. Ranchmen have been fighting brush for decades and it continues to be an issue even on lands that have received extensive treatment in the past. OK, next question. Why can’t we get ahead? The obvious answer is: We have not addressed the reason or cause of the brush problem. That cause is grazing practices that do not encourage strong-vigorous-dense cover of rangeland perennial grasses and forbs. Last question. How is that accomplished? A grazing program that is continually ongoing, rotating rest from grazing seasonally in all pastures.
Observing cattle graze can be less than exciting, that is until one observes what they are grazing. This two-year-old first calf heifer seems to be enjoying some of that much maligned KR Bluestem. With properly applied-effective grazing program the KR goes ‘vertical’ and provides some very good forage for cattle, which during rapid growth the cattle obviously enjoy grazing.
Looking down on the rangeland should not be considered a negative or derogatory aspect. This spring season is one of the most notable in terms of looking across the rangeland and making potential serious mistakes in analyzing what is happening. Statements like: “Never saw so much grass.” “The Spear Grass is taking over.” “I’m surprised there isn’t much Broom Weed this year.” “Weeds are taking over, if not killed there will be nothing to show for this rain we are receiving.” The list can go on for several pages and the statements may be correct, or incorrect.
Now let’s look down: The below picture is a good example of what the rangeland can tell us if we look closely. The reader will possibly be able to see things that I have missed -the point is- we have to look closely to determine what the range condition is, what the potential for the rest of the year might be and perhaps what should be done to make it better for the future.
Here are some of the things I see:
- Among all the plants seen the Reverchon bristle grass and another grass to the left, that is beyond my expertise to identify, are the only ones that have been grazed.
- Both grass plants have been grazed well below the 50% that many say is desired.
- The ground litter is very good except for the bare soil, and even it has a tolerable sprinkling of litter.
- There is possibly some sign of termite activity on the litter. This is not a bad thing as decomposition of plant material is important for soil health.
- The bare soil shows signs of pooling of rainfall and no erosion activity. Would take a ‘really’ big rain to run water.
- Some very palatable weeds are present such as one of the Plantains showing no evidence of grazing. Should sheep be added to the grazing mix?
- Annual Broom Weed is present. Will it dominate as the summer season progresses?
- To the right of the Reverchon are two small grasses, they do not appear to be seedlings and are probably lesser value short grasses. (Red Grama?)
- To the lower left of the Reverchon are grass seedlings, babies too young to identify, but are much wider leafed than the previous grass plant mentioned. Improving rangeland conditions?
- Texas winter grass to the far right shows no sign of grazing. As the spears of the seed head mature most grazing animals cease grazing it and move to other plants for grazing, unless that is all there is to graze and if that is the case animal condition may suffer.
- A large amount of grazable forage will be lost as summer heat reduces much of the cover to unusable grazing material. Low density grazing? A good cover crop that will be utilized by termites-earth worms-microbes-etc. to improve soil health.
The analysis of each site will always be different, but trends will be obvious with a little practice. One exciting trend noted this season is the increase of Buffalo Grass beneath the heavy cover of Texas Filaree. With a continuing effective graze-rest program this can be a ‘game changer’ with respect to drought resistance.
The management solutions to questions raised are up to the grazing manager. Looking down is the only way he can make an informed judgment.
What an amazing spring we have been blessed with. Last fall set us up for phenomenal grass growth this spring and the spring rains have provided the moisture to take all of our operations to a grassland level only dreamed of. Those rangeland managers that have taken the steps to assist those ‘ice-cream’ grasses to become strong and productive are going to reap the benefits for years to come, even moving toward what some call those ‘pristine’ days seen when West Central Texas ranching was in its infancy in the 1870’s. Some say it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to move the rangeland to a much more productive level. It is indeed a rare time of God given plentiful rainfall, but the opportunity of the rangeland manager to make a difference is available daily regardless of the rainfall. (Wet or dry) Each day presents a new opportunity to move our grazing operations to a long lasting, drought tolerant, environmentally significant productivity, a continually improving state. This includes the chance to make our grazing operations more profitable, truly a ‘win-win’ deal. Yes, if the ‘opportunity’ of today is lost, one could say he failed to seize that ‘opportunity’ and it is lost forever. Neat thing is, tomorrow presents a new chance to move the rangeland to a new level of productivity. The ‘opportunity of a lifetime’.
I am including some pictures taken today (May 11, 2019) all within a single pasture. It was burned in August of 2016 and the last grazing cycle of cattle ended January 2 of this year, we’ll be back to graze again in late August of this year (270 days of rest) (Note that little, old, un-grazed grass is seen – other than Little Bluestem which is to be expected with Little Blue)
First picture shows Texas Blue grass, Canada Wildrye and Texas Winter among others. Of note the bare area at the top of the picture is a solid limestone slab rock, with an almost continuous scattering of flint rock. The area shows considerable sign of being a Native American napping area. (Wonder what those folks saw when working in the area?)
Second picture shows a very robust colony of two-flower melic. (Note the remains of a small Juniper taken out by the summer burn.) Perennial cool season plants are becoming a very important part of the rangeland ecosystem putting us in the position of no supplemental feeding of cattle.
Third picture is of Indian Grass, Little Blue and Big Blue, also if observed closely, Texas Cup, Sideoats and other midgrass’ that offer considerable diversity to the rangeland mix are seen within picture.
As I said at the first of this post—AMAZING—spring conditions and I expect it to only get better as the season progresses.
If you enjoy reading my posts I suggest you go to ‘Rangelands and Ranching’ found at https://rangelandsandranching.com/ and click Follow in the lower right hand corner. You will need to put your email address in and if you ever tire of seeing the post, you can easily unsubscribe. This new web site-blog is in a continuing state of construction and hopefully will become a useful source of information for those that wish to understand my perception of the wonderments and environmental benefits our rangeland resource can provide with proper care and nurture. Facebook and LinkedIn will always receive the same posts, but if you are anything like me, sometimes it is much easier to open an email knowing that a fresh post is available from a source that I prefer to read and not surf through the numerous posts, that often, aren’t of any concern to me.
Two-flower Melic is pictured here and is increasing in coverage in western Sterling County. (Wasn’t aware it even existed a short while ago) It is as very palatable- high protein- cool season grass that long ago disappeared from the rangeland because of its palatability and poor grazing technique. Only surviving being nestled in a rock crevasse or brush that prevented grazing by livestock. Note the density of leaf structure, potential of considerable cool season grazing is high as the pictured plant is over 24” tall.
When Texas Winter Grass becomes that ‘Danged Old Spear Grass’
Texas Winter Grass is very useful for winter grazing of livestock, high in protein and a relatively vigorous producer of forage. Then (Just about now in our country) it produces a crop of seeds or spears that can be absolutely devastating to a wooled lamb crop. The spears become entangled in the wool and begin to penetrate the skin, then work their way into the fat and muscle, to a great extent ruining the carcass of the lamb. (Not to mention the pain and misery of the lamb.) Back in the day, when large numbers of lambs were produced in ‘Spear Grass’ country, producers and buyers alike were keenly aware of the timing of the spears becoming mature. Even if the lambs were somewhat ‘green’ and a little to light it was best to market them prior to them being contaminated with the spears resulting in a much lower price paid. The same is true today, but the volume is nothing like it once was as the fine wool industry has gone through a dramatic change of its own. (Change is inevitable, adapting to it is the key.) Thus, the tale of the metamorphous of Texas Winter Grass to that Damned Spear Grass.
As we work toward moving our rangeland to year-round grazing with no feeding of livestock being necessary at any time of the year, thus causing our rangeland to produce cool season perennials is a necessity. (With improving rangeland conditions, it is becoming apparent that wildlife fit into this no feed category as well.) For that to be accomplished the rest-graze program must be a year-around effort. (Cool season plants need animal impact and rest, just as the warm season plants do.) Yes, Texas Winter Grass is one of those along with Canada Wild Rye, Western Wheat, Texas Blue Grass, Two Flower Melic, Three Flower Melic, Engelman Daisy and probably many other plants including forbs and browse including Wild Honeysuckle now being found on the rangeland. Even the Texas Winter Grass is increasing, which is not a good thing considering the value of the other cools seasons that are increasing with each passing winter. It is assumed that the ‘danged old spear grass’ will begin to reduce in coverage as competition from other plants increases. (Signs of this happening are beginning to be noticed, but once again ‘Patience’ is in order.) Diversity of plants is very important within a rangeland grazing program.
If your grazing program is such that the ‘Decreaser’ perennial grasses are ‘increasing’. (Pun intended.) Part the dense cover of Texas Winter-Texas Filaree etc. and look below them to the ground. I suspect you will find numerous seedlings of Buffalo-Sideoats-even an Indian Grass here and there, plus many more. Exciting things are happening on the range with the moisture received last fall and this spring. Good management now will provide amazing results even when it gets dry again. (That time will be here before you know it.) Yes, this is an exceptional year for finding numerous seldom found plants, but it is also an exceptional year to give Mother Nature the chance to soundly establish these perennials for the future when the rains are not as abundant. What an opportunity to move our rangelands forward.
THE BETTER IT GETS THE FASTER IT GETS BETTER
Our ranching operation has not long had the privilege of observing the growth and grazing capabilities of Indian Grass. Basically, the first Indian Grass was found on lands that we operate three years ago. Today as the population of Indian Grass increases, we can observe how the cattle graze this highly preferred grazing plant. If the grazing program is structured so that a limited time of grazing is allowed, then followed by an extended rest period, the below picture depicts what we expect to see. About ½ to 2/3’s of the leaf surface of the plant is quickly consumed by the grazing animal. With the very low percentage of plant diversity this ice cream-decreaser is vulnerable to over grazing, if the cattle are left in the pasture for an extended time period, they will return to the first grazed plant and further graze it, ultimately to the ground. (Of interesting note, a few of the ‘bull’ IG plants that have become large well-established plants, approaching 3’ to 4’ in diameter are often avoided by cattle. (Moribund Indian Grass, the result of low-density grazing? Not prepared to make judgement on that one but may be like Sideoats Grama that seems to utilize the ‘bull’ plants to produce seed under more severe grazing conditions.) The cattle prefer to graze the younger, smaller, possibly more ‘tasty’ IG plants. If this plant is not well established, the repetitive grazing will ultimately kill it. Even well-established IG will be ultimately be killed as a result of not allowing recovery from grazing.
How long does this ‘death walk’ of continuous grazing take? I have observed young IG plants killed the first or second year of life, due to continuous grazing. When we observe what history tells: In 1898 HL Bentley wrote of the grasslands in West Central Texas. Observing the huge numbers of cattle that were grazing the land from 1876 to the date of his writing 1898. (Up to 300 head per section or 2.5 acres per animal unit) He provided some detailed descriptions of various grasses for identification purposes; Indian Grass was not mentioned in those descriptions. Was it already missing from the rangelands of the area? In his writing he interviewed some local ranchmen. Those cowmen were already (1898) concerned that the rangeland would never recover from the first 20 years of cattlemen’s grazing at those- what is now considered- ridiculously high rates.
With the current knowledge of grazing and what proper management can achieve, just how far might we go in recovering those ‘days of yore’ when some say the ‘Big Four’ were the dominant grasses. As the population of Indian Grass, Big Blue and other deep rooted, drought resistant grass increases, I expect the graze-rest-time ratios of an operation will need to be adjusted. Not knowing what those ratios ultimately might be, I look forward to the challenge of finding our operation in that new management area. (Of course, I am probably ‘dreaming’ at this point, however with hard work and diligence dreams often come true.) It appears Indian grass is a slow starter, as seedlings generally take up to three years to express themselves to the point of being recognized on the rangeland. PATIENCE is in order.
The picture depicts Indian Grass that was grazed somewhat severely in the fall of 2018, the picture was taken April 22 of 2019. Note the new growth of the Indian Grass compared to the early spring growth of other warm season grasses. Talk about a ‘jump start’ on spring grazing capability, nothing short of phenomenal. Consider what the range looked like when Indian, Big Blue, Little Blue and Switch Grass were in good health and dominated the landscape. Three hundred head to the section? Probably not, but just think what it might have been under a properly applied controlled grazing program.