Thirty people from the Colorado region, and as far away as California attended an Open Gate tour “Creating a Future for Farming and Ranching in SW Colorado” that featured Cachuma Ranch on September 28th. The tour was organized and facilitated by Cindy Dvergsten, HMI Certified Educator, who has worked with both Cachuma Ranch and Fozzie’s Farm. The tour began in Dove Creek Colorado with participants including both beginning farmers and seasoned producers. Cindy provided a brief overview of Holistic Management(R) before the group traveled out to Disappointment Valley to learn how Kathy and Ken Lausten are working to restore health to long abused rangelands.
Their family manages 14,000 acres of both leased and deeded land and raises Criollo cattle, a heritage breed suited to arid rangeland environments. The portion of the ranch the group visited had just been acquired by the ranch and the family is just beginning to develop their management strategy. Kat Wilder, Ken’s mother, gave a brief history of the geology of the valley and the family’s long ranching history that reaches back 6 generations. She spends most of the winter in the valley managing the cattle. She pointed out that they are in the first year of owning the property and are developing a multi-year management plan that utilizes their Criollo cattle in harmony with the seasons of Disappointment Valley to encourage the country to thrive. Ken explained he had already made amends for scheduling the Open Gate Field Day on his and Kathy’s sixth anniversary, however, the group cheered Kathy’s response that she felt it was an appropriate way to celebrate.
Forage in the lower Disappointment Valley includes a diverse mix of high value shrubs such as Four-Wing Saltbush, Greasewood and Winter Fat along with cool and warm season grasses including Indian Rice grass, Alkali Sacaton, Galleta, fescue and wheat grasses. The cattle are grazed November – June in Disappointment Valley starting in the upper elevations of the valley and moving down as winter settles in. Criollo cattle are efficient browsers and grazers that do well in this type of environment. Kat noted that even their bred heifers put on weight when big snows force them to rely on the brush.
Several participants have had training and experience in Holistic Management and were able to help lead small group investigations of the four ecosystem processes. The group rated the four ecosystem processes based on their observations. It was apparent that partial rest of the land has decreased productivity and land health. Soil surfaces were capped, there was considerable pedestalling of plants indication erosion. Most notably there was buildup of residue primarily in the warm season grass plants and many were dying.
Historically this range was grazed at the same time only in early spring when cool season grasses are growing. The cool season plants would have been grazed and possibly over-grazed, while the old stagnant warm season grasses dominated by Blue Gramma would be over-looked. Historic lack of animal impact was indicated by grey-black colored residues in the Blue Gramma grass plants. Too much residue will eventually shade out new growth limiting photosynthesis. Ken noted that unfortunately many of the compromised Blue Gramma plants did not survive extreme drought conditions in 2017-2018.
Ken also noted that their holdings further up the valley where they have been practicing holistic grazing are showing improvement. They are seeing less bare ground and more diversity in grasses and a return of Blue Gramma. Kathy added that Antelope and Desert Bighorn Sheep were showing up more often. She also noted that having a holistic goal has helped the family “stay on the same page” and be more aware of how their decisions affect each other. On this new land it does not make sense to invest in fencing now. Instead they plan to use watering points, attractants and herding to induce animal impact. The family believes that with good planning and management this new piece of land will show improvements within a few years.
Participants enjoyed lunch out on the open range and continued discussing the potential for this landscape before loading up and heading south to Fozzie’s Farm where the Cachuma Ranch cattle are finished on lush irrigated pasture.
Fozzie’s Farm is an 83-acre irrigated farm operated by the Montezuma Land Conservancy (MLC). Jay Loschert, Outreach Coordinator and Farm Manger for MLC provided a brief history of the farm and how MLC is considered an innovative local land trust working to protect lands and reconnect community to our natural world in the stunning southwest corner of Colorado. Fozzie’s farm was donated to MCL with an agreement that the farm be operated in a manner that encourages future generations of farmers and supporters of land conservation. Not only does the farm serve to educate the public, but also serves to help MLC to understand the challenges of agriculture, stewardship and land ownership, and thus improve their ability to work with landowners on designing conservation easements.
The highlight of the tour was observing the Cachuma Ranch Criollo cattle at Fozzie’s Farm where they graze for the summer season. Ken noted that the Criollo are gentle and smart which makes for a good fit with the farm’s public outreach and work with children. Each spring Cachuma Ranch has a meeting with MLC’s board members to come up with a plan for the summer. The farm’s pastures were in rough shape when Ken started grazing in 2016. In just a couple seasons of practicing holistic grazing and working with Jay on irrigation water management, they have been able to increase their stocking rate from 32 AU to 50 AU.
One of the trouble spots on the farm is a field that became infested with both Canadian and Musk thistles as a result of poor management from previous tenants. Thus far some improvement has been realized by a combination of grazing, cover cropping and spraying, but the thistle persists as an issue. Cindy guided the group through structured diagnosis process to identify root causes of the problems and identify possible tools of management to address the situation. The group agreed that it will take a unique application of the tools of management to address the weak point of each type of thistle’s life cycle to reduce their impact on productivity.
Jay noted “Since we began working with Cindy and Mike Rich, and the Lausten’s three years ago, the farm has transformed, productivity has increased, and the relationships we enjoy with our partners have matured..” He also stated that one of the greatest benefits he has realized in learning to practice Holistic Management is the importance of budgeting and planning for a profit, not just hoping for one.
One participant summed up their takeaway as “I learned today that it is essential to continue to move forward with your dreams. Enjoy life and have gratitude in learning from your mistakes.” Another participant exclaimed “Great ranch tour! I especially enjoyed the Criollo cattle. I really like this kind of thinking outside the box to best address a problem given the resources available”. Everyone agreed that simply taking time to just look at the land with others is vital to keeping hope for the future and restoring land health.
In conclusion, Jay stated “It is wonderful to make some new connections and to share the story of our partnership with Cachuma Ranch at Fozzie’s Farm. I’m looking forward to the future of farming and ranching in SW Colorado and beyond. Stay tuned as we develop our feedback loop to provide data that will further guide our management. It’s truly an exciting time to be involved in agriculture!”
|Topic/Process:||% of participants increasing knowledge or changing behavior:|
|Do you intend to change management practices or apply ideas learned in this class?||100%|
|Did you expand your network by meeting new people or learning about new resources||100%|
|Would you recommend this event to others?||100%|
|Overall satisfaction with event||100%|