Rangeland Monitoring–Simple Endeavor or Rocket Science

Someone once told me that monitoring rangelands was not rocket science, and while I have to agree, I also tend to wonder why more ranchers do not engage in this useful activity.  Rangeland monitoring as defined is the orderly collection, analysis, and interpretation of information (data) used to make both short- and long-term management decisions.  Okay, so now I understand why more ranchers do not partake of this activity–when defined it sounds like a whole lot of work and that you may need an advanced college degree to get it done.  In all actuality rangeland monitoring can be as easy as taking a photo every couple of years.  Yes, it can be that simple if you put a bit of thought into the process in the beginning.

Rangeland monitoring can be as easy as taking a photograph. (Photo by Ashley Garrelts).

Rangeland monitoring can be as easy as taking a photograph. (Photo by Ashley Garrelts).

 

The beginning.  Everything needs to start with a solid foundation.  You do not go build a house or barn just willy-nilly and so it is with rangeland monitoring.  First you start with a goal–what are you going to monitor?  Is the Canadian thistle patch in the back 40?  Is it cheatgrass encroachment? Is it native grass health and reestablishment?  There are many questions that you may want to answer through your monitoring project.  I suggest you pick one or two to start.  The next step is picking your sites.  The number of sites you pick depends greatly on your goal, the number of pastures you have or want to look at, and the size of those pastures.  For many, one site per pasture is enough, for others you may need two or three.

Planning during the beginning stages will ensure a proper foundation for a rangeland monitoring project. (Photo by NRCS).

Planning during the beginning stages will ensure a proper foundation for a rangeland monitoring project. (Photo by NRCS).

 

For example if you are trying to get a feel for how the native grass population is doing in response to your grazing plan, one monitoring point per pasture may be all you need, especially if you have fairly uniform plant composition across the pasture.  On the other hand if you are wanting to look at grazing distribution impacts, you may need to have more than one location.  Starting with a solid foundation and plan will be key to the ease of implementation.

Knowing your goal and pasture size will help you determine the number of monitoring sites needed. (Photo: University of New Mexico Extension).

Knowing your goal and pasture size will help you determine the number of monitoring sites needed. (Photo: University of New Mexico Extension).

 

The middle.  Once you have set a goal and chosen your sites, you need to decide what type of monitoring you would like to do.  In most instances a photo and some notes will be all you need.  If you are trying to answer more complicated questions you may need to do a cover by life form transect or stubble height measurements.  I encourage everyone to take a photograph no matter what.  You know what they say–a picture is worth a thousand words.  If you need to do monitoring on your public land allotment, visit with your agency representative and see what he or she recommends.  Data from monitoring can come in handy during disputes with other ranchers, agency people, and other groups that may have issues with your grazing activities.

The end.  The end is simple.  Just get out and do your monitoring.  Take the picture or run the transect.  Taking the picture is the simplest since most of us carry cell phones with picture capabilities now days.  Just remember to take that photo off your phone and save it to your computer or print it out and save it in a file folder.

Taking a photo looking down onto the rangeland can show how plant composition can change over time in response to grazing, climate, and other factors. (Photo by:  Ashley Garrelts).

Taking a photo looking down onto the rangeland can show how plant composition can change over time in response to grazing, climate, and other factors. (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts).

 

All of us have the same number of hours in a day.  What you do with those hours is key.  If healthy landscapes and having data to back up your grazing decisions are not priorities for you, monitoring will not be a priority in your ranching business.  Rangeland Monitoring defined can seem like a daunting task and a little bit like Rocket Science, but once broken down into management steps it becomes a very simple endeavor.  There are many people out there than can help you with implementing a rangeland monitoring plan.  Including people from your local university extension office, land management agency, conservation district, etc.  I encourage each of you to look into a monitoring plan.  It can be a simple as taking a photo while you ride through your pastures checking on fences or livestock.

Monitoring can help you see what is happening on your rangelands over time.  (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts).

Monitoring can help you see what is happening on your rangelands over time. (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts).

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June Observations (with video)

Here it is already July.  It has been a busy summer and I haven’t been able to write as much as I would like to have, in all reality I haven’t been able to write at all.  I have been doing quite a bit of traveling and will be doing some more in the next few weeks.  In June I was up in Duboise, WY for a training and had the bright idea that I would like to go canoeing.   To tell you the truth, it was not as fun of an experience as I would have hoped, and I am pretty sure I will not be doing it again unless the temperature of both the water and the air are warmer.

Don't let that smile fool you.  I am pretty sure canoeing is not for me. (Photo by Mae Smith).

Don’t let that smile fool you. I am pretty sure canoeing is not for me. (Photo by Mae Smith).

This year in my neck of Wyoming we saw an abundance of spring moisture and you know what that means– you got it– grass!  There seems to be grass everywhere and the grass fields that are being cut for hay are producing record numbers of bales.   There are likely two reasons for this.  One is of course, the spring moisture falling at exactly the correct time for optimum plant growth.  The other is the cool temperatures we have experienced this spring.  The 90 degree temperatures that are common in Eastern Wyoming did not hit us until early July.  Many of our grasses in this area are cool season grasses.  This means they only grow when temperatures are cool and go dormant during the heat of the summer.  Check out this YouTube video that explains this phenomenon:

Early in June I had the opportunity to teach a workshop with Jim Gerrish and some other Extension Educators at the 3rd Annual University of Wyoming Extension Grazing Management School.  During this school participants learn about using Management-intensive Grazing (MiG) techniques to enhance their forage production on irrigated or sub-irrigated pastures.  Each time I work with Jim I learn something new and I am sure most producers feel the same way.

Cows look on before being moved to new pastures (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts).

Cows look on before being moved to new pastures (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts).

 

MiG actually involves more intense management rather than more intense grazing.  Cows intensively graze by nature, only people can intensively manage.  When we use MiG techniques we are actually making business decisions so that our business meets are needs rather than the livestock’s’ needs.  Science defines MiG as a “flexible approach to rotational grazing management whereby animal nutrient demand through the grazing season is balanced with forage supply and available forage is allocated based on animal requirements.” This definition emphasizes flexibility, animal nutrient demand changes, pasture growth rates, and how much forage is available at any given time.  MiG can be accomplished with any species of grazing animal and has been proven to improve pasture condition, land use efficiency, environment, and profitability.  Check out this video that talks a bit about MiG and shows it in action.

June was quite a month and I have high hopes for July.  Stay tune for a look at Extension happenings throughout the seasons.  And if you get the chance to go canoeing, do it!  It may not be your cup of tea, but you will never know until you try it.

A creek full of summer snow melt cuts a path through the mountains. (Photo by Ashley Garrelts.)

A creek full of summer snow melt cuts a path through the mountains. (Photo by Ashley Garrelts.)

 

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