HMI Project Manager, Peggy Cole submitted this report on the second workshop in our Mitigating Drought with Holistic Management Workshop Series.
Walt Davis and Peggy Sechrist partnered to deliver essential information on the importance of planning your grazing as a tool to mitigate drought as well as improve the health of the land. Dr Richard Teague was scheduled to present research findings about the effect of planned grazing on the water cycle, but he came down with the flu just before the workshop. 48 people attended the 2-day workshop at Bear Creek Ranch near Aledo, TX.
After a warm welcome from Melissa Bookhout on behalf of the Dixon Water Foundation, Peggy Sechrist opened the workshop with a description of planned grazing and the principles involved. Walt Davis then explained the consideration of drought elements as part of the decisions involved in designing your grazing plan. Having the right enterprises for your resource base to be sustainable, even in a drought year is important, so Walt talked a little about some of the financial aspects of Holistic Management. He also showed some examples of right and wrong stock type and numbers for ranches in different parts of the state. But the primary consideration is getting the land health to optimum by increasing “biological capital” (healthy and diverse plants, animals and soil life).
Well-managed stock density builds biological capital. Mob grazing can be a powerful tool for the good or the bad depending on the skill of the manager and the grace of the weather patterns. Your plan must use time control based on forage growth in your conditions. Expecting the plan to go wrong, you must monitor for growth rate of forage, forage usage, animal performance and the condition of your ecological processes. You are looking to meet the needs of the land, the animals, the finances and the humans involved.
Tons of practical advice came from Walt while the participants got more and more excited about creating a plan. After a fine BBQ lunch, Peggy Sechrist taught the technique of measuring forage in Animal Days per Acre or ADA’s. The class went into the field to practice stepping off a square they felt certain could feed one animal unit (1 cow or 5 sheep) for one day. They learned the formula for converting the size of the square to a percentage of an acre so that herd size and land size can be extrapolated.
Back inside, Peggy presented a set of information from Bear Creek Ranch with which the participants were to work in 2-person teams to complete a grazing chart. Certified Educator trainees roamed the room helping when folks had questions. By the end of the day most of the math was done and the teams just had to chart the actual grazing and the moves from paddock to paddock.
Day 2 resumed with completing the grazing charts with the goal of understanding how the chart can help manage a great deal of complexity. Walt Davis then shifted gears to talk specifically about drought and how to develop a mindset and a plan that takes some of the stress and risk away from facing the inevitable. The primary concerns are to have the land as healthy as possible when the drought hits and to protect it from overuse with careful grazing strategies during the drought. Once the drought is over, allowing the land to recover before restocking to the max prepares for the next drought.
After lunch, we went out on the ranch to see pastures just grazed and pastures recovered enough to re-graze. The land was in wonderful condition despite the recent drought with lots of diversity, tight spacing of plants and many of the most desirable grasses. Grazing was light, though the plan is to take the warm season vegetation down pretty short when the cool season grasses come in enough to need the extra sunlight. Cattle and sheep hang together for protection and ease of management. Dixon Ranches general manager, Robby Tuggle and Walt Davis together answered a zillion questions and smiles were the expression of the day.