Know your range plants, goals
You want to have good range and pasture, but where do you start?
Allan McGinty, a recently retired Texas AgriLife Extension range specialist, San Angelo, says you first need to know what you’ve got out there on your land.
Diversity is desirable. Healthy rangelands as compared to unhealthy rangelands usually have a greater diversity of plant and animal species. Plant communities tend to be dominated by perennial plants as compared to annuals.
• Healthy rangeland tends to have a good diversity of range plants.
• Photographs over time at set locations can record range changes.
• Know what’s in your pasture and what the goals are for the range.
McGinty says healthy rangeland has a minimum of erosion because the soil surface has enough plant cover to protect it from the impact of heavy rain. The plant cover also serves to slow the movement of water across the soil surface, making for greater water infiltration rates as compared to unhealthy range.
The veteran range scientist says healthy rangeland will produce a greater and more dependable amount of herbaceous forage for both livestock and wildlife.
In a vibrant range, ecological processes, including the hydrologic cycle, nutrient cycle and energy flow all are functioning, supporting healthy biotic populations and communities.
Know what’s there
To create a range management plan, it’s essential to know what you have on your range. “Each plant community has its own mix of grass, forb and woody plant species,” McGinty says. “This mix of species changes over time due to the impact of weather, seasons, brush and weed management — and grazing by livestock.
Rangelands can be monitored using a variety of methods, he notes. Some of the more common ways to monitor your rangeland include vegetation sampling, segregating some areas from grazing and using photo points.
By comparing photographs and detailed notes for the exact same location over time, current rangeland health and change can be observed and documented.
The photographs, observation notes and interpretations serve as a permanent record for each location and situation. McGinty notes photo points provide a way to monitor rangeland with a minimum of expense and time.
“When comparing photographs for a specific photo point over time, look for changes in the amount of forage, brush, weeds, bare ground, litter and signs of erosion,” McGinty says.
Also observe changes in the types of plants for the presence or absence of certain varieties.Your records of grazing, brush work and rainfall are invaluable in interpreting the photographs.
Set your goals
Dale Rollins, Texas AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist, San Angelo, says one of the biggest changes in the landscape over the past 50 years has been the proliferation of exotic grasses such as bermudagrass as “improved” grasses.
Others may include various lovegrasses (weeping, Lehmann, Wilman), Old World bluestems (including Caucasian, Plains, Kleberg, and others), kleingrass, bahia, tall fescue, buffalograss and guineagrass.
That’s fine if your goals are heavy grazing by livestock. But if your goals include wildlife, most species of wildlife prefer a diversity of native plants, Rollins notes.
Rollins cautions not to convert native range to improved pasture until you’ve thought it out. That’s because once you’ve converted to exotic grasses, it’s very difficult to return the range to native pasture. He says it’s important to realize what some call “common weeds” actually are “key wildlife food plants.”
More property owners are performing selective brush control nowadays — or brush sculpting — rather than trying to eradicate all brush, as might have been the goal many years ago, notes Rocky Vinson, Shackelford County AgriLife Extension agent, Albany.
This aims at a balance of brush for those that have wildlife goals in their range management, he notes.
Many ranchers continue to find ATVs handy in maneuvering to selectively treat brush, Vinson says. He pointed out that just the fence parameters can be many miles on large ranches like those found in Shackelford County.
In his county, Vinson notes some ranchers manage for livestock, others for both livestock and wildlife, and still others solely for wildlife.
That’s why it’s important to know what your goals are — from the onset — when planning your range management strategy.
This article published in the May, 2011 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.