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406-765-1801 ext 101 119 N. Jackson, Plentwood, MT 59254

A word from Conservation Charlie

Range Use – Take Half and Leave Half

“Did you ever notice a range with quite of old grass gently waving in the breezes at the end of the grazing season? What does such a condition indicate to you? A range pasture with old grass is apt to create a variety of options about the man who left the grass.

Sam considers that a rancher who’d do a thing like that is plumb loco. Slim figures it’s the sign of a poor operation. Mac thinks that the rancher probably hasn’t got enough stock. He should buy more cows so he can use all of that extra grass. And Bob reckons as how that rancher is doing a pretty fair job of using his ranges.

That’s quite an assortment of conclusions. Who’s right?

Some folks are scandalized when they see good grass apparently going to waste that way. ‘After all, the only way that grass will make money is on a cow they’ll say. ‘That man could have put several more pounds of meat on his critters if he’d let them eat that grass.’

The man who knows grass and cows, however, will nod approvingly. When he sees such a pasture he’s apt to say, ‘The fellow who owns that range is going to be in the cattle business a long time.’

Old grass is a sign of a healthy range. Grass is properly used if about half of the current year’s growth is given to the cows. The half that the cows leave is the soil’s share of this year’s crop. It is also the half that maintains the grass in a vigorous and productive condition.

If a grass plant loses more than half of its growth during the spring and summer the roots suffer. They cannot grow normally. They become stunted and cannot furnish food to the plant. The plant becomes weak and cannot produce the amount of grass it should. If overgrazing continues year after year the plant dies. Poorer grasses and weeds eventually come in and the production of the pasture rapidly decreases. The rancher can no longer graze as many cows as he once did. By taking all of the grass as a general practice he finds that his herd of cattle becomes smaller and poorer. He must sell down or buy more range.

That old grass also serves as a mulch for the soil. The dead material eventually falls to the ground and forms a protective covering of the soil. The force of the rains are broken by this blanket. Erosion is controlled and the soil pores stay open. Rain and snow water run into the ground instead of rushing down into a flooding coulee. More moisture in the soil means more and better grass.

A mulch also protects the soil from the hot breath of Old Sol. The ground surface is insulated and the soil stays cooler. Evaporation of the precious ground moisture is also slowed down. Cooler temperatures and the moisture saved result in more grass production and a longer growing season. That all adds up to more feed for the cattle.

The additional growth of grass on properly managed ranges means that the half the cows get gradually gets larger. The range will support more cows. The rancher’s income is increased. And he lives happily ever after.

Old grass on a range at the end of the grazing season is the earmark of a successful rancher. That grass isn’t wasted. It’s an investment. It pays a good rate of interest. It’s money in the bank.”

~Harry Corry

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