This article, by Donald H. Fulton, range conservationist with the Soil Conservation Service in Roosevelt, Utah, first appeared in the Soil Conservation magazine in August of 1963. This publication did a lot of the same things for farmers and ranchers then that On Pasture does today – it shared science and experience to help improve the success of their operations. I periodically share articles from these old magazines in the spirit of the saying “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Some the practices outlined here are practices that we continue today. Others have changed as we acquired more knowledge about the environments we work in. I’ve added sidebars that point out some of these things. I invite you to think about your own practices, where they come from and to consider what you might change if you had additional information. I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below!
Experience has borne out the soundness of Utah rancher Bill Karren’s decision in 1957 to improve the land he already had at Jensen through reseeding and other conservation methods instead of buying more rangeland.
It was one or the other, because his cows were coming off the summer range in poor condition and with light calves. Karren figures it would have cost at least $10 an acre of the land equivalent to his own. Reseeding would also cost $10 an acre, but would allow him to run 10 times more livestock and produce heavier calves. Since he started his conservation program, his calves have increased 75 pounds in weight, and the percent of calf crop for the breeding cows is better than 90 percent.
With the help of a Soil Conservation Service range conservationist, Karren first made an inventory of his range and developed a conservation plan through the Uintah Basin Soil Conservation District with Agricultural Conservation Program cost-sharing assistance. The plan included dividing the 4,000-acre ranch into four pastures so good grazing management could be achieved. Then in the spring of 1958, he plowed up the big sagebrush and drilled in crested wheatgrass and Ladak alfalfa on an 85-acre area in the north pasture that was in poor condition.
Clippings made on June 14, 1960, showed that the seeded area was now producing 1,400 pounds of crested wheatgrass and alfalfa (air-dry weight) to the acre, while adjacent areas in native plant cover were producing only 397 pounds of total air-dry herbage an acre, and 248 pounds of this was big sagebrush unpalatable to cattle. Actually then, only 70 pounds of this native vegetation an acre could be taken by cattle for proper, or 50 percent grazing use. On the seeded land, 700 pounds of forage an acre were available with proper use of taking half and leaving half. The difference thus was 10 times, or 1,000 percent, more usable forage on the improved acreage over the undeveloped range.
“When I turned the cows on the crested wheat, I could see them start to put on weight,” Karren recalled in explaining his plans to put an electric fence around the 85-acre seeded area and seed the rest of the pasture, an additional 200 acres, to crested wheatgrass.
Range reseeding is only part of Karren’s ranch conservation program. Since 1957, he has deferred or rested one of his four pastures from grazing through the plant growing season each year and rotates the grazing season in the other three. This system allows the native grasses to seed, and gives young grass seedlings a chance to get established.
He also has made plans for sagebrush control with a spraying program on 3,000 acres, further to increase palatable grasses and the livestock carrying capacity, and provide better erosion control. Meanwhile, with the help of Bob Metcalf, his father-in-law, Karren has installed approximately 3 miles of plastic pipe that carries water from springs on the hillsides to pasture areas that did not have livestock water, constructed four earth pounds, and built and repaired 4 miles of fence.
Karren’s 200 acres of irrigated land at Jensen also has a new look. He has developed new irrigation systems by leveling his fields and constructing new ditches, so he now has control of his irrigation water. He also installed an 8-inch, 1/2 mile-long pipeline from the main canal on the hill above his fields to the Green River below. When there is enough water in the canal, he can sprinkler irrigate with gravity pressure, and when water is low in the canal, can pump water from the river through the same system.
“I now go on my mountain range 2 weeks later in the spring and bring them off when the range has been properly grazed,” Karren says of his conservation program. “I have plenty of feed on the farm, and this way I can improve my range faster. I am glad I made that decision in 1957. Even though the past 3 years have been extra dry, the grass has still improved and I have sold good calves. I only wish I had started my conservation plan earlier.”
Karren was selected as outstanding farmer in 1961 by supervisors of the Uintah Basin District, and an outstanding farmer of the year 1962 by the Utah Association of Soil Conservation Districts.