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 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.
Engelmann or Cut Leaf Daisy is 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 round.
Most ranchers have heard that statement and most likely have made the statement themselves, that “The weeds have taken all of the moisture and there is none left for the grass.” Those annual weeds are shallow rooted annuals and have no effect on deep moisture stored in healthy soils. Of course, without deep rooted grasses and forbs, the root systems channels created by older decaying roots, shading of the soil created by the dense cover and ground litter on the surface, the soil has no way of holding the moisture to allow it to soak up the rains. (Nature is continually working to create a rangeland without bare ground. It is up to the rangeland manager to assist her in this endeavor.) As a rule, heavy cover of annual weeds is found on areas that were bare soil prior to their germination and without their presence the available soil moisture would possibly be less because of evaporation.
After being blessed with, soaking, highly effective late summer and fall rains last year, ranchers across the area are experiencing phenomenal spring growth of both winter annuals and -provided grazing management practices were in place-cool season perennials. The temptation is great to deviate from the grazing plan and leave the livestock on those areas that are producing the bulk of that ‘not long lived’ flush of growth. Yes, it will not be long until that ‘spring green’ will be gone and it seems illogical to let it ‘go to waste’ and some adjustment might be in order to utilize this ‘temporary’ feed. (Remember that the grazing animal doesn’t differentiate from annual and perennial plants, it only eats what it likes or is readily available. Many of those perennial cool season plants are very high on the animals preferred list.) While all grazing plans should be designed to be flexible, care must be taken not deviate the graze-rest cycle to the point that those perennial plants that the plan is designed to protect and enhance are overgrazed, resulting in their loss. Cool season perennials can provide the stable nutrition that is needed for livestock and wildlife to flourish and not be dependent on supplemental feeding in winter and early spring. Protection of these plants should be of the highest priority, and over the long term will provide the rancher the opportunity to have a profitable-sustainable operation.
Remembering the long-term plan and the value of enhancing the growth of those deep rooted–drought resistant, soil building, highly palatable, nutritional plants, should always be a part of the priority goals of the rangeland management plan. Taking advantage of temporary growth is part of the consideration but should never be done at the detriment of a healthy-improving rangeland.
Engelmann Daisy one of the ‘Big Four’ of perennial forbs is getting ready to bloom. Care must be taken not to place too much grazing pressure on this highly nutritious-cool season-perennial forb. Its large deep roots offer many positive possibilities to the rangeland resource and to the success of the ranching-wildlife program.
Read the following link to get a more detailed description of Engelmann Daisy.
“With each passing drought we can never achieve the grazing capacity we had prior to that drought.”
This is a quote from a Sterling-Coke County Texas rancher-neighbor made in the early 1980’s. This rancher had witnessed the 1930’s dust bowl era, the 1950’s drought and numerous other mini-droughts. At the time he told me this, I was a 30-year-old that was beginning to figure out that I had best listen to the old timers, as their wisdom often had a bigger story to tell that just their statement. It is my opinion that his statement was and still is very accurate, in that on much of our rangeland depleted-aging- moribund rangeland grasses are weak with relatively poor root systems established in even poorer quality soils. Those stressed plants will most certainly wither and possibly die under severe drought conditions.
The question is: Is it droughts fault these plants perish? Often yes, drought gets the blame and yes that assumption is correct in that it moves the weak plant closer to death because of the increased stress.
The next question is: Why did the historical droughts prior to European mans presence not cause this same reduction in rangeland quality? (Archaeological and documented history shows a much more severe history of drought prior to the 1800’s than afterward to present.) Mother Nature (One of the Lords most valuable assistants.) designed an ecological system that utilized drought as part of its overall adaptation to what the environment had to offer. Certain species of plants adapted to drought, heavy grazing, fire, short and long rest periods, cold-heat and whatever else came along. When man, a harvester-predator came along, much of that supposedly pristine state changed forever.
The next much bigger question is: Can man do anything to correct this loss of quality rangelands? The resounding answer is yes, he can. It takes patience, dedication and perseverance, but through planned grazing utilizing timed rest and grazing drought begins to be less of an issue. Many times, treating the issues caused by poor management, such as addressing brush encroachment, soil erosion and loss of certain grasses and forbs needs to be addressed, but to have a sustainable recovery, confronting the cause (Poor grazing management) should be the first step taken.
Sustainable Rangelands: Grasslands that, when utilized for a specific goal or purpose, are consistently improving or at a minimum showing equal heath and vigor, after timely recovery from that use.
Much as in the statement, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, any definition of sustainable rangelands must apply to each individual’s perception of what the goal is. I was at the 2013 NCBA convention when McDonald’s, the hamburger giant, made the statement that, at a point in time they would only serve sustainable beef. The next words from the speaker’s mouth was that the cattle raisers and NCBA would have to determine what the correct definition of sustainable beef was. I am certainly not a scholar of the English language, but it appears to me that we are trying to make the definition of the word sustainable much too broad. It is a word that has become accepted as an environmentally, socially and economically acceptable term for most any commodity produced. Many industries both in agriculture and others outside of agriculture are spending vast amounts of time, and for that matter money, trying to come up with an acceptable definition and standards that apply to their respective “sustainable” industry. I believe that the English language is too diverse to limit such a broad and key area to one word. I have never been very good at giving definitions of words, (Just ask my teachers from grade school.) Words that are used out of place and are to general to describe what is actually occurring, should be replaced with those that more accurately portray the situation. Now if you ask me to describe healthy-improving rangelands that’s a different story.
A healthy rangeland is one that is moving the water cycle forward so that little water from precipitation is wasted. That water it is either utilized by the plant community for growth and reproduction or can soak into the ground and become part of the aquifer system.
A healthy rangeland is one that is moving the mineral cycle forward. Mineral cycles are complicated, but one of the key things that happens is the magical process of photosynthesis converts sunlight to chemical energy, turning CO2 to carbon, which is stored in the soil for future plant and microbial use and oxygen is released into the atmosphere.
A healthy rangeland is one that is building soil health. Combining the improved water and mineral cycles is the basis of improving soil health providing a good habitat for microbes, earthworms, insects and numerous other ‘critters’ that are so important to storing water, energy, minerals and countless other nutrients, producing healthy soils.
As all these resulting improving rangeland health issues come together to produce a truly sustainable rangeland. All as a result of initiating and maintaining a well designated-practical rangeland management program.
Pretty cool deal.
Big Blue – Indian – Little Blue – Canada Wildrye – Texas Cup – Wild Honeysuckle
All native no seeding. Can’t ask for any better than this. All it takes is a properly planned, applied and maintained grazing program. Yes, lots of patience, planning and perseverance needs be applied in liberal proportions.
Farm Bulletin No. 10 – GRASSES AND FORAGE PLANTS – BY H. L. Bentley, Special Agent in Charge of Grass Experiments at Abilene, Texas 1898.
“Stockmen traveling in San Saba, Tom Green and Taylor counties in 1876 said, Grass everywhere 1 to 3 feet high sometimes as high as cows’ backs on uplands as well as bottoms. At that time there is little doubt that the ranges would have supported 300 head of cattle per square mile. It is claimed that 300 A.U. per section was the common average rate 10 years ago! (1888) Today it requires at least 10 acres per head (64 A.U. per section) and it is often considered not the best policy to put more than 50 cows to the section.”
“This overstocking of the ranges has continued year after year, through good seasons and bad ones, until it is of the opinion of some of the most experienced cattlemen of central Texas that the injury has gone almost past the point where redemption is possible. The ranges have been almost ruined, and if not renewed will soon be past all hope of permanent improvement.”
Think trough what these last two paragraphs said. In 1876 three hundred head of cattle per section of rangeland, after 10 years it was recognized that it would have been best if 150 head were the starting number, yet for 10 continuous years the rangeland was able to support those numbers. Those are grazing rates that would rival the best farm land available, highly irrigated and fertilized, with new crops coming available on a year-round basis. Impossible, yet it is documented that it what was done. (Granted at the expense of the rangeland resource.)
Ask yourself how in the world was this possible? The grasses were the best available, Indian-Big Blue-Switch-Eastern Gama, deep rooted (possibly 15 to 20 feet deep-even deeper according to some scientists), healthy soils that stored huge amounts of water within that soil profile, that the root system was feeding with the carbon being sequestered. The microbes-earth worms and all of those good things that grow in a healthy soil profile, providing nutrients for the plants. Those tall-deep rooted-healthy plants had enough energy stored in their roots systems to provide that grazing, at least until the roots used their surplus energy, resulting in their death. (It is worth noting that the plant list that Mr. Bentley provides in his article did not include those grass’ listed above.) Had those grass’ already disappeared as a result of those 10 years of heavy-continuous grazing?
In 1898 some 20 years after the cattle grazing era began, it was recognized that much of the pristine rangeland had already disappeared, yet in 2019 many grazers of the land are still managing the land in much the same way. (Although at considerably smaller numbers.) Yes, virtually all producers want to “Leave the land in better shape for their kids.” Millions and millions of dollars are spent trying to reclaim the rangeland, very successfully many times only to see the same old process of ‘Here comes the brush again’ or ‘Drought is much more prevalent than ever before.’ Those are only symptoms of the overall cause. POOR GRAZING MANAGEMENT
Stopping active erosion is one of the first things observed when utilizing an effective grazing program. This former ‘ditch or wash’ is recovering well.
Frank and Sims Price Ranch
In 2012, Price Ranch was recognized for their range management when they were presented the Outstanding Rangeland Stewardship Award by the Texas Section, Society for Range Management and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. And it was recognized as a 2013 regional Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) winner during the 2013 Cattle Industry Summer Conference.
How did you get your start in ranching? The Price family began ranching in 1876. Frank Price has managed his family’s ranch for 40 years, first in partnership with his father, and then in partnership with his son Sims in 2011. Together, they run their cow-calf operation on 68,000 acres. Sims and his wife Krista are the fifth generations of Prices on the ranch, which they operate in four counties. The ranch operates with three primary income enterprises including sheep, cattle, and hunting.
How important is agriculture to your family?The Price family has two primary goals. First, the ranch is operated as a separate business, self-sustaining, and is expected to show an annual profit. Second, but equal, their goal is to leave their natural resources in the best possible condition for the next generations.The family is dedicated to these goals. They have recently started using Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) dollars to make continuous improvements to the ranch, and they also use controlled and prescribed burning to their benefit by adjusting their livestock grazing charts to include speed of moves, flash grazing, animal density and total deferment.
What makes ranching in West Texas so unique? In a normal year, they receive 18 inches of rainfall. These last two years have been abnormal, with exceptional drought and devastating wildfires, particularly in their area,” said Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association President Joe Parker, Jr. “Even though they had to reduce their herd to protect their land, they still found lessons in flexibility during the adversities. The Price family’s experiences with wildfire lead them to be a leading voice in Texas on inter-agency cooperation in fighting wildfires. We are glad to have his practical and sound leadership in such an important area.” The father-son partnership at Price Ranch represents the fourth and fifth generations of Prices to ranch in west Texas.