Fort Collins Conservation District

Ron Neher

Savings through Rangeland Sustainability

By: Ron Neher, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Retired

Personal economics is handled differently by just about everyone. Some people will spend all the money they earn with no reserve. Others will hold back a percentage with disciplined savings for a future project or simply a “rainy day” savings account. With most people’s economic activity somewhere in between these two extremes, - who can really say what is the best idea. After all, most people enjoy spending money, - with saving money frowned upon as not being all that much fun anyway.

Grazing livestock can be looked upon with similar reasoning. The amount of forage one has in a pasture prior to opening the gate is where the rancher starts, - so-to-speak, - after “payday.” You can graze it all or save some.

With a “graze-it-all” attitude an almost immediate problem arises. When an excessive amount of forage is grazed with basically no top growth left, the forage production capability and overall rangeland quality is severely curtailed. Annual reproduction of perennial grasses, - the top growth, - is directly related to the quality and capability of the roots and root reserves of the plant. With the top growth removed, photosynthesis is highly curtailed, or in many cases stopped.

Photosynthesis is the process whereby a plant uses sunlight in the combination of water and carbon dioxide molecules to produce sugar and oxygen; - anyway that is the basic definition. The point to be made is that the photosynthesis reaction occurs in the top growth. Obviously, if the top growth has been eaten, then the production of organic sugars cannot be produced which will in turn impede the next growth cycle of vegetative growth. With continued mistreatment, the plant can and will go into dormancy or even death giving opportunity and space for various invasive species of less favorable forbs and grasses. What follows is less forage per acre, lower stocking rates, and degraded rangeland health.

An adequate and productive grazing plan is essential for any rancher. Often times, dividing a field into smaller fields allows you to graze a larger number of livestock, through a rotational grazing plan, with increased profitable yields. Existing resources such as soil type and forage production capabilities, acreage size and number of fields for rotation possibilities, amount and type of livestock, as well as necessary watering facilities, all need to be considered in developing a sustainable grazing plan which will in turn develop profit as well as improved rangeland conditions and improved stocking rates.

If you have need of improved rangeland conditions, - or if you just want to talk about your current rangeland activities, stocking rate, forage potential, or whatever, - and possibly how you would like to see improvement, you are welcome to visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service field office in Fort Collins for assistance. Assistance through one of the agency’s conservation programs may also be available.