Many years ago Alan Savoy (could have been Stan Parsons, can’t remember which) told me (not these exact words but paraphrasing): You have been improperly taught to look “at” the range. But, you need to get your lazy ass out of that air conditioned pick-up (or down off of that over-paid horse), get down on your hands an knees and look INTO the range.
Here in Dave Pratt illustrates what, exactly, that means. Some say a picture is worth a thousand words. I say reading is for people who don’t understand pictures. — jtl
by Dave Pratt via the Ranching for Profit Blog
You cant monitor the health of land from a windshield. You’ve got to have boots on the ground. Even then, we tend to look across the land rather than into it. Looking across gives a distorted picture of whats really going on. We need to look into the land.
Study the photo below. It was taken on a ranch in western Wyoming. The pasture on the left side of the fence hasnt had any livestock grazing in 12 years. The pasture on the right is grazed one week every year.
The ungrazed pasture looks like it has more cover, less bare soil and is generally healthier than the pasture on the right. But lets change our perspective and look down into the pastures rather than across.
Now we see the real story. There is clearly more cover and less bare soil in the paddock with livestock grazing. The soil on the side with no grazing is not only exposed, it has formed a cap. A cap is a crust that forms when raindrops fall on bare soil. Capping reduces water penetration and increases runoff. There is more litter covering the soil in the pasture on the right and the soil is loose. When it rains, that litter will intercept those drops so they wont hit bare soil. The litter will slow the flow and increase infiltration. That will grow more grass. Growing more grass will increase the volume of roots in the soil. Those roots will increase the organic matter content of the soil, which will further increase infiltration, and it will hold more moisture longer into the dry season. (Organic matter holds 6 times its weight in water!)
Fence-line contrasts often look impressive, but they can be misleading. In comparing these photos it would probably have been useful to know that cattle left the pasture with the one-week graze period the day before the pictures were taken! Imagine what the side-by-side comparison looked like a week earlier or what it will look like two weeks after the next rain.
Next time you drive down the road, before you draw too many conclusions about the health and productivity of your pastures, it’d be a good idea to get your boots on the ground to see whats really going on.