Like a Prairie – A Big Picture View of Grazing Management

I sometimes joke with my family that we need to go into the Giraffe business, since after all they’re supposed to have adapted such long necks in order to browse the acacia trees of Africa, and it won’t be long before the cousins of those trees, the Huisache and Mesquite, are all that’s left of our ranch. I think I speak for many livestock raisers in our region when I say that the toll of fighting the North American acacia has been high. Our efforts to keep our own land free of this tree have taken the form of expensive poisons such as the 50/50 Remedy and diesel blend. It has never sat well with me, putting diesel and poison on our land, and when I think of the results of these efforts I am struck by how much money we have handed over to the chemical companies. We’ve made some progress lately with a bulldozer, but it is also an expensive machine. Between the diesel, the breakdowns, and time spent, I often wonder if it’s worth it. Then there is the upfront cost of the machine—which amounted to around US $30,000. All in all, the ranch has spent thousands and thousands on the problem and little sprouts of acacia trees continue to appear in our fields. But the alternative is simply to hand over a way of life and a

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6 thoughts on “Like a Prairie – A Big Picture View of Grazing Management

  1. 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. Will,
    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. 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. 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. 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. 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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