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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Proper Grazing Ensures that Spring Rain gets to the Plants

Ominous grey clouds build into large thunderheads on the horizon, moving with determination over the landscapes ahead.  They eat up the fluffy white cotton balls of the early afternoon and bring with them the promise of rain to the spring greened prairies.  As the clouds drew nearer rain began with a slow pitter-patter, bouncing off grass blades and shrub leaves. Gently soaking into the ground.  However it steadily build up to a thunderous deluge, increasing the flow of a small creek running between the rolling hills.  Rain drenched cattle, turned their backs toward the on coming wind, trying to find some relief from the pelting raindrops.  Cloud to cloud lightning flashed and sent rumbles of thunder echoing across the grasslands.

Storm clouds build on the horizon.  (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts)

Storm clouds build on the horizon. (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts)

 

To most land owners, spring rains are a welcome sight.  It provides much-needed soil moisture that help plants grow and thrive–creating forage production for domestic livestock grazing.  However, torrential downpours can become a problem when rangelands have been disturbed or overgrazed.  This is because of the difference that healthy plant communities makes with regards to water infiltration when compared to unhealthy or poorly managed plant communities.

A spring rainstorm rolls across the prairie.  (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts)

A spring rainstorm rolls across the prairie. (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts)

 

Healthy rangelands are characterized by a greater diversity of plant and animal species. Plant communities that are dominated by perennial bunch and mat forming grasses, broad leaf plants, and maybe even some shrubs are more productive and have more capacity for water infiltration than range plant communities that are characterized by annual plants. Perennial vegetation has larger root systems that help hold the soil and thus decrease runoff when torrential down pours occur. Plant cover also serves to slow the movement of water allowing for more time for that water to soak into the soils.

Healthy grasslands have a diverse set of plant species and stabilize the soil. (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts)

Healthy grasslands have a diverse set of plant species and stabilize the soil. (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts)

 

Unhealthy rangelands are characterized by more bare ground and a less diverse set of plant communities. Overgrazing leads to increase in these characteristics. These rangelands have an accelerated loss of soil through excessive erosion. This soil loss increases sedimentation of streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. Soil loss from erosion and increased runoff during storms reduces the volume of soil available for water storage for use by the plants. Thus the production potential of plants decrease and so does the availability of forage for grazing animals.

This heavily used pasture is a prime location for runoff and erosion.  (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts)

This heavily used pasture is a prime location for runoff and erosion. (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts)

 

Proper grazing is key for the sustainability of your operation and the area’s rangelands. Remember that your area of land is connected to other areas that make up a large area of land that we call a watershed. Not only does your grazing and management affect the types of plants and soils found on your acreage but it also affects those around you. When you choose to overgraze or do other damage to rangelands you change the dynamics of how the watershed naturally operates. Maintaining a proper stocking rate and rotating when and where you graze throughout the year are keys to keeping rangeland plant communities healthy and thriving.

Healthy grasslands around ponds and other water bodies provide much needed stabilization.  (Photo: NRCS Photo Gallery)

Healthy grasslands around ponds and other water bodies provide much-needed stabilization. (Photo: NRCS Photo Gallery)

 

The storm continues to rumble eastward across the Wyoming plains, taking with it the blessed rainfall.  Towards the end the pitter-patter of rain drops tapers off.  Cattle gradually start grazing the succulent green grass as the thunder crashes through the clouds in the distance and calve frolic, happy to begin the drying off process.  The sun begins to peak its rays out beneath the gray cloud cover and a rainbow arches across the sky.  Another storm has come and gone.  The grass drinks up the beloved water and the muddy creak continues to flow, making its way towards the big river.

Cattle graze under a rainbow after a torrential down pour. (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts)

Cattle graze under a rainbow after a torrential down pour. (Photo by: Ashley Garrelts)

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