2017 has brought new challenges with the drought. Many ranchers have it much worse than we do. We were fortunate enough last year to receive 30” of rain. The normal is 10-12”. With that said, our grass was in great condition going into the spring and the reservoirs and pits all had abundant water. The hot, dry weather and no rain this year started taking its toll on the reservoirs and cattle needed to be moved. We have one reservoir the cattle will not drink from as it had too much salt in the water. It was the only water source for that pasture. The pasture will not be used this year. In late July we started spreading cattle out into other pastures to relieve pressure on water holes as cattle spend more time drinking and standing in the water when it is hot. This will muddy the water and can become unhealthy, especially for the calves. As the waterholes dry up, it leaves enough for the birds and wildlife to get a drink.
During dry years ranchers adapt to changing conditions with the range land. Grazing rotations in and out of pastures may have to be changed. Waterholes, wells and creeks are checked often to insure plenty of water. We also watch for algae bloom in reservoirs as it is toxic to livestock and humans both, if in contact with it. Many ranchers are testing their water sources for sulfates to keep their cattle from getting sick and/or dying.
While we were moving cattle I came across some remnants of another time on the prairie. The first is a broken off cedar post that once was part of a fence line. It was probably put there in the homestead era. Cedar posts last almost forever! They become great scratching posts for cattle and wildlife. Over many years the post becomes well-polished from the oil in the animals hair. I always stop and feel the post. It has a “soft” appeal. One can only wonder how many animals have stopped by over the years to relieve an itch!
Continuing on my journey, another pasture brought another fence line only visible if one really looked. Many of these fence lines were removed to make for larger pastures after the homestead era. The only thing visible in thisfence line are large rocks that had been tied to the fence to act as weight to hold the fence down in the bottoms of swales and other deep depressions. All that is left is a small piece of wire still attached to the rock. These rocks are large by any standard. One can only sit there and wonder who and how many men it took to move that rock in place to hold the fence down.
As the cattle move progressed to another pasture, I stopped and took pictures of the riparian area on Big Warm Creek. It looks great and is healthy as it wanders thru the pasture. We will use this pasture in the fall, just before weaning. This gives wildlife in the area time to raise their young and have abundant cover for nesting birds. It also keeps the creek healthy as the cattle will not spend as much time in the bottom when the grass is dry everywhere.
Ranchers work hard to have healthy grass to graze and leave enough to support wildlife and birds. Developing enough water sources, rotational grazing and range monitoring strategies all aid in keeping pastures healthy and vibrant. Thanks for letting us show you around our ranch.“Treat the earth well; it is not given to you by your parents, it is loaned to you by your children.” Wendall Berry