In the drought of 2009, Kregg and Diana McKenny’s well ran dry. They had to haul water, and ultimately sell all their livestock except for 2 retired horses. The well that had served his family’s ranch since the 1940s, and that got them through drought in the 1950s, just couldn’t keep up any longer. Even the new, deeper well they drilled in 2011 couldn’t provide all the water the operation needed.
It was then that Kregg went to his local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office to find out what kind of alternatives were available. NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist Derrick Fuchs suggested a multi-prong approach as part of a Conservation Plan:
“Our initial plan was to reduce his mesquite canopy through brush management, along with installing a rain water catchment utilizing the surface area of his barn, and adding storage to increase his water source capabilities,” explains Fuchs. “The NRCS has a diverse staff and we were able to use an NRCS agriculture engineer to design the gutters and storage facilities. The 3,500-gallon storage tank ended up being filled in three rainfall events and hasn’t gone dry since.”
Now the McKennys have three water sources for their livestock: two wells and the rainwater they collect. And they’re working to use the precipitation that hits the ground to grow more forage. With the help of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the McKenny’s were able to clear the dense canopy of mesquite that had taken over their property and reestablish pastures to native grasses. Instead of growing mesquite, now they grow grass and forage plants, and even recharge their aquifer.
The Conservation Plan came with a new grazing plan too. With cross fencing and temporary electric fences, McKenny can rotate animals through pastures, and take advantage of his new forage base, while still providing plenty of rest and recovery time.
McKenny has learned a lot from his experience. “I look at my management from different facets including brush control, water distribution and storage, with proper stocking rates and a drought plan in place. This means you have to know if you can reduce livestock once the rain stops,” he says. “I had waist high grass this past year and I still get worried about overstocking. My main concern always goes back to 2011 and having to destock because I had no water for my cattle.”
McKenny also appreciates how Derrick Fuchs and the NRCS helped him work through changes on his ranch. “Working with the NRCS was very easy, with Derrick getting a plan in place while giving me ideas to think about for the long term that I hadn’t really thought about before,” said Kregg McKenney. “After the funding was secured, I was able to implement some of the action items in my conservation plan. Now I am thinking of the next step with my cattle, even though I still get leery of stocking too heavily and tend to be more conservative because I don’t ever want to have to destock like I did in 2009.”
What Can You Do With This?
Be like Kregg!
We can all benefit from having more sets of eyes and brains looking at our operations and figuring out potential solutions, whether it’s becoming more resilient to drought, or grazing for soil health and increased profits.
Head over to your local NRCS office and ask the staff there to put a Conservation Plan together for your place. They’ll look at your resources, ask you what your goals are, and give you multiple suggestions for things you can do to improve your soil, water and forage resources and meet your farming and ranching goals. They might even be able to find funding assistance to help you get started down the new path. You’ll benefit, and so will local wildlife, as well as your neighbors, who want you to be successful.
Do you have questions, suggestions and/or experience you’d like to share? We’d love to see them in the comments below!