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Working Ranch - March 2016

established. If an area is grazed at the same time each year, the ice cream plants cattle love have less opportunity for growth and root system recovery.” Typically, grazing an area for two or three weeks allows acceptable forage growth and recovery time. The grazing strategy also improves potential for animal weight gain. “If forage is grazed too short, cattle can’t use their tongue to put it in their mouth,” Wyman says. “They have to work harder and use more energy to get the last little bit of that plant.” Cows are known to return again and again to desirable plants, especially once regrowth begins because that new growth is nutritious and palatable, which is a good reason to make sure all cattle are removed from a riparian area following planned grazing. TAKING IT TO THE BANK Bank conditions should also be considered in grazing plans. Fine grained, sandy or clay soils can be especially fragile during wet periods, especially if 38 | WORKING RANCH | MARCH 2016 existing vegetation isn’t capable of holding saturated soil in place. In wetland areas, if cattle hooves punch down below vegetation, the area is too wet for grazing. “Stream banks that are sloughing off or in areas where hooves punch through vegetation layers, erosion can become a serious issue during high flow water events,” Wyman continues. “The type of vegetation on the bank is important in this situation. Sedges have strong root systems and can help maintain a bank much better than a grass such as Kentucky Bluegrass, which has a very shallow root system.” In a riparian area where new seedlings and shoots have emerged early in spring, cattle can wipe out huge populations of new plants. New growth and development of plants is a key element of riparian area dynamics, maintaining the stability of the stream and improving the ability of the area to disperse and hold floodwater. “There are many threats to riparian area vegetation,” Wyman shares. “Lack of diversity, where invading species overtake native grasses, and wildfires which contribute to erosion by destroying forage and ground cover. There are also diseases, insects and fungus that can wipe out an entire species in an affected riparian area.” To accurately monitor riparian area conditions and/or improvements, Wyman recommends annual photos, which clearly illustrate riparian area conditions before and after grazing. “It’s good to obtain photos in a specific area right before and right after cattle graze. That provides details of what vegetation was there and its condition before cattle came in. If a picture isn’t captured as soon as cattle are removed, it’s possible wildlife will come in and graze further. That’s especially important when you’re working with an agency.” Wyman further recommends that ranchers ask why they’re required to maintain specific stubble heights in a grazing area. “That information can help the rancher understand what the agency is trying to accomplish in that area,” she says. “It’s important for permittees and managers to know and understand everyone’s goals for a grazing area.” On public lands, officials such as Wyman work with ranchers to identify the state of riparian areas and goals for maintaining or restoring them. Private landowners can seek the input of rangeland specialists, fish and wildlife experts and livestock management experts to develop goals for private riparian area care. In light of the recent activity related to sustainability of the Greater Sage Grouse, flowering plants are becoming increasingly important in riparian areas as food sources for the chicks and insects the birds eat. “By working with a group of specialists, ranchers can determine what forage is nutritious for a cow and important to other wildlife species in the riparian area,” Wyman adds. “Other specialists can help identify problems or potential for a specific area. By learning how the riparian area looks today, how it could or should look and how it can be used to maintain it for future users, the area can reach its best possible potential.”


Working Ranch - March 2016
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