Landowners in Cooke County are invited to a one-day workshop on October 2 with Texas A&M AgriLife at Dixon Ranches Leo Unit. From 7:30am to 4pm, participants will learn about recognizing the cross timbers, wildlife habitat management & tax appraisals, range management, conservation easements, soils, and invasive plants. Admission is $20. CEUs available. For a complete program, download a PDF of the Cross Timbers Landowner Workshop agenda.
Ian Mitchell-Innes, Holistic Management Educator and mob-grazing expert, held a workshop with Dixon Ranches staff, board of directors, and advisory board members at Mimms Unit in July. The South African rancher discussed grazing strategies, animal performance, and other topics.
You can learn more about many of the principles and practices he covered in this online presentation, Ranching in Sync with Nature:
ABILENE—Under every farm and ranch around Abilene, a universe of microorganisms is toiling in the soil. Hardin-Simmons University researchers recently received a Dixon Water Foundation grant to explore how land management affects this subterranean world on a Runnels County ranch.
“Our food, our water resources, and many other ecosystem services start with soil,” said Marla Potess, an HSU environmental science professor leading the research. “Over the last 100 years, we’ve been really hard on our soils. Even with good, scientifically based management, soils are degrading, and many ecosystems are moving from highly productive to less productive. So I’m very interested in managing soils to improve microbial biodiversity, which may impact water retention and plant biodiversity and productivity.”
In what they hope will become a long-term study, Potess and HSU biology professor Jennifer Hennigan are examining soil microorganisms on the Newman Ranch in Runnels County, about 40 miles south of Abilene. HSU professor emeritus and trustee George Newman invited the university to use his ranches as outdoor laboratories and created an endowment to fund research on his family property.
“For the past 40 years, as time and finances have allowed, I have been converting my cropland back into native grassland,” Newman said. “I feel that my philosophy of land stewardship closely mirrors that of the Dixon Water Foundation and I am very appreciative of their support for this program.”
The Newman Ranch study sites have the same soil type but have been managed very differently, Potess explained. For example, one site is a cultivated hay grazer field, while another is being restored to native prairie grasses. Potess and Hennigan are looking for differences in the soil microbial communities at each site, which they eventually hope to correlate with different management techniques used in each pasture.
HSU students have been actively involved in the research, collecting and analyzing soil samples and drafting research proposals related to the project. The Dixon Water Foundation grant will fund DNA sequencing that will provide a snapshot of the microbial diversity at each study site.
“It’s exciting for students to participate in a project that’s asking really important questions and filling in real information gaps,” says Potess. “The preliminary data this spring indicates we’re on the right track, so we’re really excited to see what we find this summer when the DNA is extracted and processed.”
Ultimately this research could help farmers and ranchers better understand how their actions aboveground affect the microscopic world underground.
“The hypothesis is if soils have diverse, healthy microorganisms, they can hold more water,” Potess said. “And that has important implications for drought resistance for crops and restoring grasslands.”
Those implications helped attract support from the Dixon Water Foundation, which promotes healthy watersheds through sustainable land management. The foundation funds research and education projects tied to this mission and demonstrates sustainable grazing management on its four ranches in North and West Texas.
“We hope this research will help farmers and ranchers improve the economic productivity of their land by building healthier soils and healthier watersheds,” said Robert Potts, the foundation’s president and CEO.
“Ranchers can apply many of the same management approaches that work for land health and livestock production to prevent conflicts with large carnivores,” states Matt Barnes, field director for Keystone Conservation, in a new white paper that was funded in part by the Dixon Water Foundation.
“Modeling livestock management after the grazing patterns and reproductive cycles of wild ungulates in the presence of their predators can improve rangeland health and livestock production—and increase the ability of ranching operations to coexist with native carnivores,” continues Barnes in the paper’s abstract. “The central anti-predator behavior of wild grazing animals is to form large, dense herds that then move around the landscape to seek fresh forage, avoid fouled areas, and escape predators. They also have their young in short, synchronized birthing seasons (predator satiation). Grazing management involving high stocking density and frequent movement, such as rotational grazing and herding with lowstress livestock handling, can improve rangeland health and livestock production, by managing the distribution of grazing across time, space, and plant species. Short calving seasons can increase livestock production and reduce labor inputs, especially when timed to coincide with peak availability of forage quality. Such livestock management approaches based on antipredator behaviors of wild ungulates may directly and synergistically reduce predation risk— while simultaneously establishing a management context in which other predation-prevention practices and tools can be used more effectively.”
The full white paper, “Livestock Management for Coexistence with Large Carnivores, Healthy Land and Productive Ranches,” is available as a PDF on Keystone Conservation’s website: http://www.keystoneconservation.us/PDFs/KeystoneConservation_2015_WhitePaper.pdf
Keystone Conservation has developed several other resources for range managers about how grazing management can prevent conflict with large carnivores, while improving land health. The organization recently consolidated with People and Carnivores.
The Dixon Water Foundation was honored with a Texas Environmental Excellence Award in Agriculture at the TCEQ’s Environmental Trade Fair and Conference in Austin last week. Ranch manager Casey Wade and board member Leslie Rauscher were on hand to accept the award. TCEQ produced this video about the foundation’s work for the ceremony:
Walt Davis, a fifth-generation rancher and Dixon Water Foundation board member, was recently asked what should be included in a ranch management curriculum. The foundation supports sustainable ranching programs at Sul Ross State University and North Central Texas College, which are training a new generation land stewards who should understand the concepts Mr. Davis stated so well:
“The first bit of knowledge that I would suggest as critical to ranch managers is that all agriculture— ranching included—is a biological, rather than an industrial, process. The ranch most likely to be both profitable and sustainable will be the one that best mimics the complex web of relationships between soils, vegetation, grazers and predators that nature has used to create the productive and stable grassland communities that existed in various parts of the world prior to human intervention.
This program of natural management evolved over eons of time and is based in the fact that anything that is detrimental—in the long run—to any part of a functioning system is harmful to the entire system. It does not produce the most pounds per acre of animal life or the most pounds of grass, but rather a system that is highly resilient and effective in converting solar energy into biological energy over long periods of time.
The closer we can keep our management to this model, the more apt we are to build ranches that are ecologically, financially and sociologically sound. The major difference should be that humans assume the role of primary predator. This allows humans to benefit—take subsistence and create wealth—but it also means that we must take on the functions performed by predators: control numbers to suit conditions (set stocking rates); prevent abusive grazing (keep animals concentrated and moving); and maintain genetic fitness in the grazing animals by selection and culling.
A second concept of value would be the importance of biodiversity in improving the health of soils, plants, animals and bank accounts. Every type of organism has needs and the abilities to provide for those needs that are different from those of even its closest relatives. Having a broad range of healthy populations—made up of healthy individuals—of different kinds of organisms insures that no one species increases in number to pest status and that the resources of sunlight, water, mineral nutrients and space are fully utilized with none being over-utilized. Weeds and brush proliferate because the local environment is degraded and ecological niches are not being filled. Most weed and brush control methods make the situation worse by further simplifying the environment. We should manage for what we want; not against what we don’t want.
Stockmanship is a skill of vast importance that is woefully lacking on many ranches. We create most animal health problems by stressing the animals.
Finally, the importance of and the rationale behind planned, time-controlled grazing. This must include getting in sync with the realities of climate, vegetation, water, and the use of adapted animals. Basic to successful grazing management is an understanding of the relationships between grasslands and grazing animals and that proper grazing builds grassland health.
Many of the problems of ranching originated with the shift of emphasis from husbandry to science. We must use science to understand nature, but it is a mistake to attempt to use science to control nature. There is a severe shortage of people who understand that we must promote the health of the whole animal-plant-soil-human-wealth complex we call a ranch, in order to create profitable and sustainable operations.”
Walt Davis writes regular columns for the Farm Progress family of magazines and other publications. He has published two books: How to Not Go Broke Ranching and A Gathering At Oak Creek and has three others under way. You can learn more about his work at waltdavisranch.com.
Texas’s water supply depends heavily on the stewardship of private agricultural land, which is increasingly being fragmented and developed. Learn more about changing land use in the Trans-Pecos and tools for private lands conservation at an upcoming seminar, “Going, Going, Gone!” on April 30th in Alpine. To learn more and register, visit the Texas Agricultural Land Trust website.
The Dixon Water Foundation’s Texas Environmental Excellence Award was featured in the Gainesville Daily Register.
“We’re deeply honored to be recognized by TCEQ and the governor’s office,” said Robert Potts, the foundation’s president and CEO in the article by Kit Chase. “We are thankful for all of the hard-working people and collaborative partnerships that make our ranches, as well as our grant and education programs, successful. And we hope this recognition sparks more interest in the sustainable grazing practices we demonstrate on our land.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality this week honored the Dixon Water Foundation with a Texas Environmental Excellence Award in Agriculture, the highest environmental honor in the state. These prestigious awards bring attention to the most innovative and effective projects that strive to protect the state’s natural resources.
“With a patient and consistent dedication to holistic land management, the Dixon Water Foundation is assuring the most free and open lands in the state can remain healthy and productive for future generations,” says TCEQ’s announcement. Read more about the foundation’s award on the TEEA website or in this article by the Gainesville Daily Register.
“By using measures—such as the carbon stored, the water absorbed and retained, populations of fungi, bacteria, wild life and insects, and rancher and animal well-being—we are comparing adaptive grazing with conventional grazing to see if the former actually improves ranch ecosystems,” said Peter Byck, professor of practice at ASU and director, producer and writer of the documentary Carbon Nation. “We hope to study and compare 36 ranches located in four diverse eco-regions across the U.S. and southern Canada.”
Also on the ASU research team is Richard Teague, a Dixon Water Foundation advisory board member and Associate Resident Director and Professor with Texas A&M AgriLife Research. The team is presenting their research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting this week.
Read more about the research project at: http://phys.org/news/2015-02-capturing-carbon-soil-real-scale.html#jCp