In the paper he presented at the Sixth Annual Meeting of the American Society of Range Management, in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1953, Robert E. Williams said, “Getting uniform use of ranges is a problem that has existed since the range was first stocked with domestic animals. It is still one of the most important management problems in modern ranching operations. Many of the practices applied to encourage uniform use of ranges by livestock are not new but have been adapted to fit specific needs.”
What he had to say back in 1953 still holds true today. “Efficient livestock production requires that all parts of a range unit be grazed as uniformly as possible to the proper degree of use.” So, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at what “modern” ideas were back then, and compare it to what we’re doing today. This is the first in a three-part series.
Modern Methods of Getting Uniform Use of Ranges
ROBERT E. WILLIAMS Area Conservationist, Soil Conservation Service, Crowley, Louisiana.
Fleming (1922) pointed out that the carrying capacity of a given range is greater where equal and uniform use takes place than where grazing use is uneven.
To achieve uniform use, a range manager must select the proper combination of practices needed on his particular unit. These practices need constant adjustment to allow for seasonal changes in vegetation and climate and to overcome the natural tendency of livestock to favor certain areas.
Location and Type of Stock Watering Facilities
Increasing the frequency of watering places is the first recommendation made by most range men to improve grazing distribution. Proper spacing of water holes also saves grass and minimizes erosion. Jardine and Anderson (1919) recognized that “water may influence the distribution of cattle and the utilization of forage more than any other factor”. Pechanec and Stewart (1949) emphasized the importance of water at regular intervals on sheep range in Southern Idaho.
Harris (1950) reports that the development of additional water provides the most effective means of improving cattle distribution on summer ranges in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. Harris also stated in correspondence that one of the major efforts in water developments by the Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station is in placing emphasis on small, temporary water holes, rather than a few larger developments. He reports that such holes contain water for only 30 to 60 days, but they aid in getting use of areas which might not otherwise be grazed (Fig. 1).
The use of seasonal or temporary surface tanks is being advocated to encourage use of forage away from permanent water. Several range men advocate the closing of permanent water supplies during periods when temporary facilities provide water.
This practice helps to save forage for later use near the permanent supply and also encourages improvement of the range. The practice of hauling water to unwatered and unused sheep ranges was being practiced as early as 1918 according to Ingram (1930). In studies at the Desert Branch Station of the Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Hutchings (1946) reported that sheep gained more and required less water when watered every day and the troughs moved to a new location after each watering. Water haulage in tank trucks to unwatered sheep range is minimizing trailing and reducing use in the vicinity of
permanent waters on many sheep ranges. Good road systems are greatly expanding the use of this practice.
While a ranching or livestock operation could not be carried on without permanent water supplies from streams, springs, wells or ponds, it appears that temporary water facilities are of considerable aid in getting uniform use of ranges.
The practice second only to water in getting uniform use of ranges is fencing. Stoddart and Smith (1943) describe the use of boundary, division and drift fences in range management.
In general, fences should follow natural land features or range sites as much as possible. Harris (1950) points out that cross-drainage fencing interferes with the natural movements of livestock and usually causes concentration of use on one side with little or no use on the other. Allred (1951) recommends studying livestock movements in relation to topography, existing fences, water supplies, forage and other factors for at least a year before cross fencing is undertaken. This preliminary study would give valuable leads to use in locating new fences.
Fence locations often divide permanent water locations for use in two range units. It is usually more desirable from the standpoint of getting uniform use to locate fences to permit grazing out in all directions from permanent water. This arrangement reduces local use at the watering places.
Electric fences have been used under special conditions to help obtain uniform use. Miles (1951) found electric fences to be economical, easy to construct and satisfactory in gaining better distribution of grazing by sheep and cattle on high foothill range in Montana.
Seventy Years Later….
The biggest change between 1953 and today is that we have technology that we didn’t have then.
There’s nothing new about the idea of water as a tool to improve livestock distribution or about the need to provide access to water away from the pond, creek or other water source. What has changed is some of the technology available. Today, water can be pumped with solar pumps – fixed in place and portable, or solar pumps on a hand cart, by pumps powered by stream flow, or nose pumps powered by animals. It can be piped with flexible hoses above ground.
We also have fencing technology today that didn’t even exist in the the late ’90s when I first started building electric fences. We have poly- wire, tape, and braid, and we can power them with solar chargers. Together we can have more control of where animals graze and how long they stay there.
Conditions on the range have also improved. Here’s just one example from San Juan County, Utah. he area was the site of heavy grazing in the late 1800s and early 1900s before the Taylor Grazing Act was passed after which livestock numbers were limited on public lands and forests in the West. The photos below show what the area looked like in the 1940s and ’50s and what they look like more recently in repeat photos taken by Earl Hindley of the Bureau of Land Management (ret).
Original Photo – 1957, Repeat Photo – July 29, 1998
The channel bottom is beginning to heal with the establishment of Baltic rush. Banks have evolved back to lesser angles and are now being vegetated by smooth brome, and blue grasses. Rills and growing gullies visible in the foreground in 1957 have vegetated over and surface flows are diminishing. The area is not fully repaired but the improvement is obvious. Aspen trees at the right of the 1957 image have died, but the aspen clone at the left of center has expanded since the original photo.
Original photo – late 1940s or early 1950s, Repeat Photo – July 29, 1998
This northwest view of the head of Recapture Creek is within the Manti-LaSal National Forest. This immediate area is part of the Blanding Community Watershed and no longer grazed by livestock.
The contour trenching and seeding project, completed after the original photo, has stabilized the slope. Gully erosion has been curtailed and the area continues to heal. Good varieties of introduced and native plants have become firmly established on the slope as well as in the draw.
All together, it seems we know what to do, and when we apply the principles as described decades ago, things do improve.
Here’s part two where we look at livestock improvement practices and grazing management back then and compare them to what we do today. Stay tuned!