Commercial Farm Projects, Courses/Workshops, Land, Livestock, Rehabilitation, Soil Conservation, Water Harvesting —
by Owen Hablutzel May 3, 2013
Though too often vilified, both ‘cows’ and ‘plows’ have proven to be among our most effective and available tools for restoring healthy ecological and eco-agricultural systems in our landscapes. Bucking the trend in conservation that has denounced these tools from early on was Aldo Leopold – perhaps best known for his influential Land Ethic from 1948. In his earlier, groundbreaking book about working with ecosystems and wildlife, Game Management (1933), his preface made the visionary but provocative claim that “Game can be restored by the creative use of the same tools which have heretofore destroyed it — ax, plow, cow, fire, and gun.”
Circle Ranch is in the high-mountain deserts of far-West Texas, where we get about 11 inches of rainfall annually. Generally, our lower country like this desert is very dry, but the ranch has big draws that run throughout it which create unique ecosystems in a very dry area. Much of the grass that is growing in this draw, photographed with a telephoto lens from a high mountain vantage point, is the giant sacaton grass. Sacaton is considered an inferior pasture grass based on the theory that cattle don’t like it.
The desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) is one of the four subspecies of desert bighorn sheep that occur in North America. The desert bighorn is named for the American naturalist, Edward William Nelson and is found in the desert Southwest and Northern Mexico.
Experts today say that prior to European settlement, there were 1.5 to 2-million bighorn of which about 7,000 were desert bighorn. However around 1604 early Spanish explorer, Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar, described desert bighorn skull piles at bighorn-hunting Indian villages which would indicate far-greater numbers, and that bighorn were out on grasslands.
A frequent complaint about planned grazing is that it is too costly, and hard to implement.
This winter, Circle Ranch is running 450 mother cows and their calves. We are ‘loose herding’ rather than concentrating with electric fences. This method of planned grazing offers a cheaper and easier way of bringing periodic animal impact to our desert grasslands, since it reduces the complexity of the necessary water and fencing systems, and reduces labor. It also helps animal performance.
This is the second in a series about how domestic animals like cattle can help wildlife and habitat in desert grasslands. Our first introduced Cows and Quail, Albuquerque-based Holistic Management International’s new range and wildlife program which focused on quail.
Our topic in this article is the most characteristic large mammal of far-West Texas and New Mexico: the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana). Unlike bison, pronghorn were never found outside the high plains and grasslands of the American West nor ever far from bison. When bison were most plentiful, there may have been 50 million pronghorn! This close association of pronghorn with bison contains the main clue to their conservation and restoration.
Copyright 2013 Circle Ranch - San Antonio, TX.