I was offering a rangeland monitoring class this week but because of the wonderful rain it was canceled. Rangeland monitoring is best done as a hands on activity. Yes, I was disappointed, but I am not one to complain about the rain. While I was working on rescheduling this class I was visiting with a livestock producer who told me that rangeland monitoring was just more paperwork so learning about range monitoring wasn’t in the plan. As you can imagine, since I am a range nerd and all, this made my hackles rise up just a bit and I feel like addressing the comment, so you get another blog post! I’d say it was a win-win!
It has been my observation that most livestock producers do a great job at keeping livestock performance and tax records; however many do not actually monitor the most important resource on the property–the vegetation–which supports the ranch enterprises. Typically when producers visit with me and complain about having more paperwork, I give them a simple answer: Plants are the primary producers on your ranch–they convert solar energy which is free, into usable energy that fuels your livestock, why would you not want to ensure their health? Answers to this question vary, but the answer is not that important. What is important is understanding how rangeland health can affect your overall business.
Tracking animal performance, as I have mentioned, is something most producers willingly do, but did you know that it can take several years for animal performance to show a decline in rangeland condition? This is because animals are smart and they will compensate by selecting less preferred but equally as nutritious plants. Also years with above average precipitation will typically show an increase in animal performance and can mask the decline in forage condition. By the time animal performance shows a decline due to resource decline, pastures may have been degraded to the point where full recovery may take years and may be very expensive.
In my observance range monitoring is only as time consuming as you make it and can be fairly easy if approached in the right way. There are some instances where extensive monitoring may be necessary but in most cases the simple approach can provide enough indication of rangeland condition to help you make appropriate grazing decisions. Most rangeland monitoring records can be kept in your National Beef Cattleman’s Association Redbook or equivalent, where you keep your livestock records. They can be kept on your calendar where you keep your rotational grazing schedule. They can even be kept on your smart phone. Bottom line: where ever is easiest for you to keep your livestock records is a perfect place to keep basic rangeland monitoring records.
Let’s look at the simple approach. I believe there are 4 different types of records you need to keep for simple rangeland monitoring that can help you make decisions and track rangeland condition.
- Take photos while checking the fence lines. Landscape photos that show forage growth, taken annually can be really helpful when referring to the condition of each pasture. Almost everyone has a camera phone these days–there are no excuses.
- Make a list of plants found in each pasture annually–this gives you the ability to know if an invader species are present and in what amounts. This is easy to do when checking livestock or water sources. You don’t have to even know the name of the plant. You can call it whatever you want, just so you know what it is and how to recognize it, especially the bad ones.
- Maintain precipitation records. This can help you understand how the timing and amount of precipitation can affect forage growth.
- Keep stocking rate and grazing duration records for each pasture. They can help you determine where overgrazing may be occurring or where grazing may be affecting the plant types found in that pasture.
There you have it! Four easy steps to a range monitoring program. Again some instances may require more in-depth monitoring, especially if you want to answer specific questions. Be sure to contact your local Extension Office if this is the case. They will likely be more than happy to help you out. So guess what, the “too much paperwork” or “too little time” excuses may not work for you anymore. Rangeland monitoring typically takes no more time than checking a fence or water source, but will provide you with information on the health of one of the most important resources on your ranch–the vegetation.