Can you make a living ranching only a square yard? What a ridiculous statement! You say.
Well, maybe you can’t feed your family with only one square yard, but you can sure use one to illustrate what it is that you need to do to make the most from all those other square yards you own.
The first picture is a general view of a classic Chihuahuan Desert range site on the rim of Isinglass canyon in Terrell County, Texas only a few miles from the Rio Grande river and the Mexican border (which is at the foot of the mountains shown in the distance).
The principle economic activity in the county was traditionally sheep and goat ranching. That was until the National Wool Act of 1995 repealed the wool and mohair incentive payment program and all the county’s grazers disappeared. There hasn’t been enough sheep and/or goats in Terrell County to make a good pick-up load since 1995.
The particular tract shown in the photo has been “rested” (“protected” from grazing) for some 20 years. The photo just below is a close up that illustrates what 20 years of “rest” can do for a black grama plant.
So what needs to be done? The picture below is of a single square yard (3 ft X 3 ft) selected at random on that same site.
As you see, the plot contains one whole perennial grass plant and part of another. The larger plant in the lower right is mostly dead but does still have some remnants of life. The smaller plant in the upper left is door nail dead.
Other than those two plants and a healthy number of rocks, there is no other soil cover. Right? Wrong! Looking closer you can see that the soil is almost completely “capped” with a black moss-like growth that is actually alive. Not only has it sealed off the soil so very little rainfall can infiltrate, it actually uses what little moisture is left behind.
Could cows help us cure this sick land? They sure can. Since the closest cow to the area is miles away, we had to resort to simulation.
The first thing that we did was clip all the forage inside the plot and weigh it.
Then we assumed that, had this been done by a herd of animals, they would have ingested 50% of that weight and trampled the other 50% into the soil. So we put 50% (by weight) of the forage we clipped back onto the surface of the soil.
We know that cattle will put about 85% of the forage they ingest right back onto the surface of the soil in the form of dung and/or urine. So, we replaced 85% of the other 50% of the forage with dried manure brought in from another location. (There wasn’t a cow pie to be found for miles around.)
Then we took a semi-sharp instrument (hoe handle, actually) and agitated the soil to simulate what a dense herd of cattle would do with their hooves, breaking the cap and tilling the nutrients (trampled in forage and manure) in along with any dormant seed that might have been laying on the surface. In other words, we simulated the kind of hoof action that is needed to reclaim this sick land by making sure that there was not a single spot within that square yard where you could put your finger and not touch a “hoof print.”
Now we are ready for rain. I ask you, do you think that one (1) inch of rain would result in one (1) ounce more forage produced on the disturbed area than would have been produced on that area had it not been disturbed? That is only one ounce more per square yard. That’s not much, right? Well, let’s see.
How many square yards are in your ranch? Let’s say you have 30,000 acres.
There are 4,840 square yards in an acre.
Multiply that by 30,000 acres and you get 145,200,000 square yards and an equal number of ounces of more forage.
Apply the same usage assumptions as used above to those additional ounce–50% trampled in, 50% utilized by ingestion and 85% of that (42.5%) returned in the form of dung and urine. It is the 50% utilized by ingestion that is key to determining how many additional animal units you now have.
Divide 145,200,000 total ounces by 16 ounces per pound and you get 9,075,000 more pounds of forage produced. Half of that (4,537,500 lbs) and will be trampled in and an equal amount will be ingested and hence is what determines additional animal days.
Assuming that each of your animals will eat (ingest) 25 lbs of forage (on a dry matter basis) each day, you have an additional 181,500 animal days (4,537,500/25). Divide that by 365 days/year and you have an additional 497 animals year long from a measly increase of 1 ounce of forage per square yard of your land.
And it has not cost you one dime for expensive, energy consumptive fossil fuel based inputs–herbicide, seed, fuel, fertilizer, or machine time.
Source: Hand Written Notes and a Transcript of a Tape Recorded Session Made at Alan Savory and Stan Parson’s Rancher School. Albuquerque, NM. Spring 1982.
Dr Jimmy T (Gunny) LaBaume [send him mail] is President and CEO of Land & Livestock International, Inc.
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- Managing the Ranch as a Business: The Role of Predator and Prey (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
- Managing the Ranch as a Business: The Role of Time (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
- Cell Grazing: Part VII. How to Get Rich on Drought and Bad Cattle Prices (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
- Cell Grazing: Part VI. Myths, Misconceptions, and Untruths about SGM (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
- Managing the Ranch as a Business: The Brittleness Scale (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)
- Cell Grazing: Part IV. Stock Density vs. Stocking Rate. (landandlivestock.wordpress.com)