Looking Down on the Rangeland

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Both grass plants have been grazed well below the 50% that many say is desired.
  3. The ground litter is very good except for the bare soil, and even it has a tolerable sprinkling of litter.
  4. 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.
  5. The bare soil shows signs of pooling of rainfall and no erosion activity. Would take a ‘really’ big rain to run water.
  6. 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?
  7. Annual Broom Weed is present. Will it dominate as the summer season progresses?
  8. 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?)
  9. 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?
  10. 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.
  11. 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.IMG_0293(2)

Opportunity of a Lifetime?

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.

When Texas Winter Grass becomes that ‘Danged Old Spear Grass’

            IMG_0220 (003)

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.





Learning to Work With Indian Grass

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.IMG_0237

Growth Nodes

Ever considered the value of ‘growth nodes’ on rangeland grasses?

It wasn’t long ago that I had no concept of what a growth node was, let alone it’s value in working toward reestablishing our rangelands to pre-European man conditions. In simplistic terms – growth nodes are formed at the base of the grass plant, producing a flush of new growth when climatic conditions are correct. Without something to stimulate the production of those nodes the grass plant becomes moribund- roots get old and begin to die as does the center of the above ground portion of the grass plant. (Ever witnessed a pasture or entire ranch get what should be considered adequate rainfall, only to see the grass green some but provide little actual growth and certainly no filling of the interspacing-bare ground?) That is what happens when the plants are old and dying- no growth nodes to initiate new growth.

How do we stimulate those nodes to develop? First Dr. Ron Sosebee’s (Texas Tech Professor Emeritus) studies concluded that fall rains cause the development of new growth nodes. Setting the grass plant up for a flush of new growth in the spring. After watching grasses respond to fire, animal impact and even mechanical disturbance, are growth nodes also formed as a result of those various stimulants? Even those old, dying-moribund plants can be stimulated by initiating the use of those tools toward the development of growth nodes.

The trick is, after development of those nodes the rangeland manager must be willing to give those grasses the chance to respond to those newly developed nodes. How does he do that? Rest from grazing for an extended time. (Up to 300+ days particularly in a brittle or dryer climate. Think carefully—If a grass plant is struggling to develop new leaf structure and deeper-healthier root systems. A cow critter can’t be standing there waiting to bite off the new growth as soon as it appears. In a recovery program, the longer that no graze period is the better the outcome for the plant. Once this program is established and the rangeland begins to show signs of improvement, continued proper grazing management moves the recovery process forward at an even faster pace. Exponential if you will.

In our area the late summer-fall rains last year, should have produced a bumper crop of those growth nodes on established perennial grasses, now that we have been so fortunate to receive wonderful spring moisture those growth nodes should have the opportunity to produce exciting growth, not only in vertical growth but density as well. Weed competition will be a critical factor, but those rangelands that have been receiving proper grazing management should flourish with grass growth. Going to be an exciting learning experience watching what nature has in store for us.

The better it gets, the faster it gets better.

Easter Sunrise on Bobs Creek

What a glorious day

Noble Foundations Jeff Goodwin article reveals a portion of the exciting world below our feet. It is up to us to help those subterranean ‘little fellers’ with our above ground care. PROPER GRAZING MANAGEMENT https://www.thenewamerican.com/media/k2/items/cache/12186beaa75c92534632e3af73b0e971_XL.jpg




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.


Weeds Have Used All of the Moisture?

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.


Is drought the issue?

IMG_0076“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

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.