Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Return of the Cattle

Unloading into the corral.

The cattle have arrived for the start of the Dipper Ranch grazing season. Fifty-some calves arrived on December 3rd and fifty-some more will arrive over the next few weeks.

"Wow, look at our new home."

The purpose of our conservation grazing program is to control the amount of less desirable non-native annual grasses and thatch (dead plant material), reduce the amount of weedy and invasive plant species, reduce wildfire risk by controlling fuel loads, create conditions that provide better native plant biodiversity, and promote the local, historical agriculture economy.

Happy California cows, a little surprised by a morning of snow.

Over the last 3 years, we have gradually increased the number of cattle on the Dipper's 235 grassland acres and extended the grazing season as we watch the pastures improve. This year, we expect the grazing season to be December through July if the grass holds out.

Standing at a fence post for this monitoring point, we evaluate the near and
far pastures for erosion, bare soil and overall rangeland quality.

Each Fall, we monitor the rangeland conditions including "residual dry matter" (a measure of the amount of vegetation left on the ground), erosion, water quantity and quality, sensitive areas like streamsides, change in vegetation and wildlife, and infrastructure (fences, gates, roads, water delivery). We watch like hawks to protect against a destructive level of overgrazing.

Their job - eating grass.

Last year, I noticed that the upper pastures had more California poppies and more robust tufts of native perennial grasses. The spring weather, however, suddenly went from wet to warm and the non-native annual grasses quickly headed out - that is, the seed heads shot up. Many grasses that have gone to seed are less digestible and therefore not as heavily grazed by cattle. Last year, we didn't have enough cattle on the property (80 head) to rotate quickly enough through the 3 pastures and keep the annual grasses grazed down and therefore couldn't stop the seeding as the weather changed. So the annual grasses reproduced and died early in the summer rather than continuing to put out new leaves as they do when more frequently grazed.

Cleaning up in a little snowstorm.

It's all about weather in agriculture, and you can't always predict it, so you adjust to it. That is why a flexible seasonal grazing program allows us to improve the pasture and natural conditions on the property over time without risking overgrazing.

1 comment:

  1. Click your blog, see a new post, little sparkle of happiness 'yay!'


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