Wednesday, August 11, 2021

20 Month Mark of Van Horn Regenerative Grazing Project

 This project is on 3,500 acres in far west Texas. 1,900 acres had been previously farmed under center pivot irrigation with the remaining 1,600 acres being native desert. The pivots were used for intensive grazing between 2003 and 2009 with the pivots planted in Bermuda and fertilized with anhydrous ammonia. In June of 2009 the place was leased with an option to purchase to a couple of brothers who planned to raise high quality Teff grass which couldn't compete with the Bermuda. By 2011  the lease passed on to a crop farmer who annually sprayed chemical to kill the Bermuda. In 2017 they gave up the lease, which was picked up by another crop farmer in 2018, who planted, then ran out of money to irrigate and abandoned the place.  

Late rains in 2019 brought on a bumper crop of tumbleweeds, at which time I was asked to see if I could graze them out in October of 2019. To graze it right would have required 1,000 calves for 4 to 5 months, but (not realizing dormant tumbleweeds can be 17% protein and 46% TDN) there weren't people interested.  I received 145 head of calves on November 3, averaging 435 pounds.As you can see in the picture below, it would have been impossible to just build temporary fences, so I rebooted their herd instinct and let them graze paths through the weedd. In January another 130 calves which were not weighed. The calves were shipped out on June 1,2020 with half of the first set averaging over 700 pounds, with no supplemental feeding. There were also 78 pregnant cows brought in on March 1st and shipped out on September 1st, then another 83 cows brought in on October 1st (of which 59 were shipped out in April. There were an additional 22 head of Corriente cows run seperate which were fed (on top of standing tumbleweeds) from October through June. 2020 saw an average rainfall of under 3", with no measurable precipitation between July of 2020 and the 24th of June 2021. Between June 24th, 2021 and July 15th, there was an average of 5" of rain across the entire property.  




As you can see from the above photograph, the tumbleweeds were dominant over the 11 abandoned pivots. With the low stocking rate, I was only able to get proper impact on parts of the pivots. As you can see, there is a big difference, mainly in the areas where I managed to get heavy enough impact by spraying year old tubleweeds with molasses.
The bare patches between the vegetation iswhere the tumbleweeds blew away. The vegetation is a combination of weeds, and grasses, mainly Bermuda, Japanese Millet, and Feathery Rhodes Grass. These are the areas which molasses was sprayed to make the tumbleweeds from 2019 paltable. The bare patches are where the tumbleweeds blew away.
Reading the ground to see how impact was distributed is easy in the above picture. Grasses and weeds are thickest where the most impact was. Lighter impact from grazing has a few weeds and no grass, while the areas the tumbleweeds blew away are bare. The lower picture is looking at another pasture, in an area the cattle tended to bed down together as a herd.
The next picture is on a flat in the 1,600 acre desert pasture in August of 2020. The tracks in this picture are the results of cattle walking back and forth between water and feed in a group.
This next picture is a wider view of the same flat on July 24,2021 after 5" of rain between June 24th and July 15th. In addition to several broadleaf weeds there is Bermuda, Feathery Rhodes Grass, Johnson Grass, and perinnial Rye.
The lack of cattle during the first 20 months of this project has left large piles of tumbleweeds. Now that it has greened up (and starting to rain again) I'm experimenting with wet burns. The next picture is of one the weed piles after receiving 0.4" of rain the night before. Too wet to burn in the morning, but by early afternoon dry enough to set on fire. As you can see in the bottom picture, there was enough moisture to keep it from burning to the ground, leaving ground cover, but taking enough so that the ground isn't completely protected from the sun. Last week I burned some dry piles, so next month will be able to compare the response difference between the two styles of burning.
The plan now is to wait until the tumbleweeds are mature and their protein levels drop to 20% and stock for the winter with between 600 and 1,000 calves, take them to 800 pounds then destock until the rains hit, and we see what the changes are.

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