Changes in the land at Ucross Ranch
Posted on: Feb 21, 2014
What changes have been seen on the land since Ucross Ranch altered its grazing strategy?
One of the first changes measured was a strong reduction in bare ground. This was accompanied by improvements in litter cover (old, dead plant material lying on the soil surface), and eventually increased live plant cover. The table below shows the changes in ground cover on a select pasture.
Next, the reduction in bare ground made the water cycle more effective, and plant productivity climbed. The table below shows changes in plant production in a select pasture.
That production, however, was not always composed of the best mix of plant species. The undesired species cheatgrass and Japanese brome often became the predominant plant species, sometimes composing 50-60% of total production. As time progressed, however, those undesired species were often replaced by high producing, desired plant species. The table below shows changes in basal abundance of plant species in a select pasture. In this pasture, grasses like Idaho fescue and green needlegrass are the more desired species, and their basal prominence has desirably increased.
Next, various draws and gullies began running water year round. These draws previously carried water only in springtime as snow melted and ran off. Recently, those same draws and gullies ran water 12 months out of the year. The photo below shows the Donkey Draw Pasture bottom in August 2012, the hottest, driest year in recorded history. Even with precipitation levels well below average, the draw ran water throughout 2012. This provided a fresh water source and green forage to both livestock and wildlife in a challenging year.