Gary & Sue Price
Excerpted from “Improved Water Quality as a Crop by Heather Smith Thomas” originally published in “In Practice”.
Planned grazing and flexibility became a way of life for Gary Price more than 30 years ago on his ranch. This land where cattle now graze was once farming country, growing cotton. He’s worked to create a landscape that will harvest water that over time may be the most valuable crop he sells. Combining a focus on healthy land with a flexible approach to raising and selling cattle and diversifying income streams has resulted in a successful business model for the ranch.
“We bought some parcels that were severely overgrazed. Just by keeping cattle off and giving them a little rest, we found there was a pretty good seed source and some native species coming back in. One portion was not particularly overgrazed, but had been continuously grazed for a long time. We rested it because we saw it had a lot of Big Bluestem and now it has more Big Blue than any other pasture we have. When we bought it, however, the grass was very short and it was hard to identify,” says Gary.
“I am a big believer in paying attention to cow behavior. They need to have something out there to eat, but they can be pretty industrious and find things to eat if we just press them a little bit and let them know we are not going to spoil and pamper them. We don’t want them eating any noxious weeds, but that won’t happen if we have enough plant diversity. They will find something nutritious,” he says.
“We had very little rain during the last 3 months. Over a 60-day period we had only 3/4 inch of rain, and the temperature was over 100 degrees most days. It was extremely dry. To get through those periods you need to have some grass stockpiled. You also have to be ready for the rain. We recently got 3 inches, and we will benefit from that. Many producers, sadly, have already grazed off everything they have and are feeding hay—starting in August. The water will run off that land if there is any slope at all, and not much will sink in,” says Gary.
Until we see some changes in the weather we are trying to be as flexible as we can, with light stocking rates. The last 2 years have been a bit crazy because even though the drought has been severe we haven’t fed any hay or cake or supplemental feed. We’ve had mild winters, and a little rain in the fall which gave us some growth on the cool season plants. The cattle were able to graze through the winter,” says Gary.