Wyoming Ranch displays massive increase in forage production
Posted on: Jan 21, 2015
Check out the photos below. They were taken from the exact same spot on the land, but the top was in 2007, and the bottom was in 2014.
The photo on the right clearly shows higher vegetative productivity. But which year received more precipitation? The one on the left or right?
The answer may be a bit surprising: the year on the left (2007) was a much higher precipitation year than the one on the right (2014). In fact, the earlier year received nearly 4 more inches of rain, and the difference in produciton is drastic. Why?
These photos were taken of a rangeland health monitoring site on Wyoming's Ucross Ranch, and they do indeed show the exact same spot on the land. Data collected from this site showed that plant productivity had increased by a factor of four between these two years, but the pasture was not seeded, fertilized, or irrigated. Strong grazing management produced this strong increase in plant growth. Ucross drastically changed its grazing management strategy in the early 2000s, and the results of this change can be seen in these photos. Prior to the change, the ranch practiced what is known as "season-long grazing," where livestock are turned into a pasture and left there for the entire growing season. They changed the grazing strategy by shortening grazing durations to less than 14 days, extended recovery periods between grazings to over 100 days, and began altering the timing of pasture grazings seasonally. The results of this change have been striking.
In 2004, this site contained 53% bare ground, meaning over half the land within this pasture was not producing. Productivity was well below the potential, and the plant species present tended to be lower producing grasses. Through changing the management approach, overall rangeland health began improving greatly. The 53% bare ground declined to 10%, and the water cycle became more effective, meaning that any precipitation was able to enter the soil and become useful, rather than running off in erosive events. The result was the massive increase in forage productivity seen in these photos. Further, new plant species entered the community, and species composition shifted toward higher-producing grasses and forbs.
From the perspective of rangeland health and wildlife habitat, this improvement has been phenomenal. From the perspective of increasing the stocking rate and generating additional revenue through grazing, the improvement has been astounding. This example shows the dividends that accrue from strong grazing management practices.