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Like a Prairie – A Big Picture View of Grazing Management

By   /  December 4, 2017  /  6 Comments

Welcome to Will Kearney, a new On Pasture author. In this series, Will Kearney introduces a big idea about how we might manage prairies in a way more consistent with their ecological history and that could improve the landscape and our success as ranchers.

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I sometimes joke with my family that we need to go into the Giraffe business, since after all they
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About the author

Will Kearney is a rancher living in Columbus, Tx with his wife Laura Dorsey. His primary focus is thinking about how to combine economics and ecology on the family ranch without screwing any one of those things up. He has worked on ranches in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in a variety of climates and with a diversity of different landowners. He has learned a lot from watching and paying attention to his dogs, his horses, and his cattle. Even more from books. And almost nothing from people who have all the answers.


  1. Mike McMurry says:

    I’m Mike McMurry. I’m a retired wildlife biologist and ranch manager
    in the Rio Grande Plains area of South Texas. Have a good bit of experience in rotational intensive grazing. Would like to have coffee with Will Kearney and visit. We’re practically neighbors these days. Well, 30 miles in Texas aint much of a trip…I’ll buy the coffee.
    Mike McMurry
    Rutersville (LaGrange), Texas

  2. Patrick Tobola says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    My ranch is in neighboring Lavaca County. What I have observed over the last several years is that if you will actually kill all or most of the established plants of these two species (I prefer the cut stump method using remedy and deisel) and establish a thick sward of grass, then the problem becomes much easier to manage because you are then only dealing with new plants that have germinated and they do not seem to germinate at the same rate every year. Unfortunately it appears that these species tend to germinate at a higher rate in prairie than in something like a pure stand of bermudagrass or bahiagrass since there is more open ground between the bunch grasses than the sod type grasses. Also the explosion of white tail deer that has occurred in our area over the last 50 years seems to have helped with the spread of these two species. I have noticed colonies of new plants emerge some years where the deer regularly bed down in the tall grass prairie. I think having the seed encapsulated in the manure gives it an advantage to germinate and establish.

    I have found that going over the land every three years and using the cut stump method and treating with 25% remedy plus diesel is sufficient to keep the land open when only dealing with new plants and it’s easier to see them after they have grown over several years. The hard part is the initial clearing and killing of the established plants.

  3. LeAnn says:

    Try multi-species grazing. In North Dakota, I don’t have experience with mesquite and acacia, but my goats adore most woody plants. When I’m working on the orchard or shelterbelt, all those trimmings head to the goat corral for a treat after their normal grazing. That’s why our prairies had buffalo, deer, antelope, rabbits and all sorts of other creatures. They each prefer certain species and kept things in check.

  4. Gene Schriefer says:

    As our dairy farms left and the land got parcellized into 40 acre rural estates, the pastures became more and more disconnected with each new landowner and woody species invaded what had been more oak savanna landscape.

    Putting the pastures back together and bring in larger groups of heavy grazers would help control the woody species and keep the landscape open. A 20 acre pasture simply is not worth the effort for the number of head it would support.

  5. Karen Scopel says:

    Great article. I love this line of thinking. Now if we could just get neighboring landowners to recognize the benefits and join the effort.

  6. Luke says:

    Good gosh! It sounds like your advocating communism. The solution to any problem is always standing under my hat. I expect very little from other ranchers and they seldom disappoint me.
    I bought a place with a dense mesquite problem (mostly 4″ or smaller trunk) and one day per week I would go out dark to dark and cut down trees, stack brush, and my wife followed behind with Remedy-diesel mix and painted the stumps using a paintbrush. This minimized collateral damage and expense. It was a lot of hard work, but I can say it was over 95% effective.
    Today if I see a mesquite sprout I get it cut and “painted” pronto. This will be ongoing of course because many in our area just “let it go” when it comes to mesquites. I cleared and maintained 200 acres this way. I’ve go some mature mesquite woods to finish (one foot and bigger) and I’m killing them one tree at a time.

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