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Posts Tagged: rangeland

Children’s magazine focuses on rangeland animals

The September 2015 issue of Jr. Animal Scientist focuses on rangeland.
Rangeland is where deer and antelope play. It is also home for grazing livestock and many other animals. “Almost half of the land on Earth is rangeland and one-third of the United States is rangeland,” the latest issue of Jr. Animal Scientist tells its young readers. A UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) advisor is among the scientists who contributed to the rangeland issue of the children's magazine. 

Jr. Animal Scientist is published by the American Society of Animal Science for children aged 5 to 12 who are interested in animals. For the September 2015 issue, members of the Society for Range Management collaborated with ASAS to provide photos and facts about rangeland.

Theresa Becchetti, UC ANR Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resource advisor for Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, and Lisa Page, from the University of Arizona, served as co-editors for the special issue.

“Our goal is to have kids and their parents and teachers learn the value of rangelands, beyond being used to produce beef and lamb; they also provide habitat for wildlife,” said Becchetti. “Rangelands can produce energy – solar, wind and oil – while providing clean water and air and a place for recreation. These resources are protected by ranching families, the stewards who make their homes on rangeland.” 

In the magazine, readers will find descriptions of the different kinds of rangeland, a map of rangelands and photos of some wildlife species that live on rangelands. It also includes a word scramble and rangeland-related jokes (“Why do cows wear bells? Because their horns don't work!”)

“As a member of the Society for Range Management, and working on developing curriculum on rangelands in California, I was excited to be involved in the effort,” Becchetti said. “The magazine has a national circulation with a mix of families and schools.”

A PDF of the Jr. Animal Scientist rangeland issue can be viewed at


Posted on Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 9:13 AM

People and cattle can share open space

People and cattle can peacefully coexist on working rangelands. (Photo: Pixabay)
When a hiker on a San Francisco Bay Area parkland unknowingly walked between a cow and her calf, the mother came over, knocked the hiker down and stepped on him. In another incident, a woman walking her dogs off leash was chased by cows. She slipped and sprained an ankle.

Such incidents, though rare, prompted UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) experts to write guidelines for people who hike, cycle or ride horses in natural areas where grazing cattle are used to manage the land. The four-page publication, Sharing Open Space: What to Expect from Grazing Livestock, is available for free download from the UC ANR online catalog.

“Areas that were traditionally rangelands, especially in urban counties, are more and more often becoming parklands,” said Stephanie Larson, UC ANR Cooperative Extension livestock advisor in Sonoma County and lead author of the publication. “State parks generally remove grazing, but we didn't want to see that at regional and county parks.”

Cattle grazing can provide important services to these working landscapes, like managing the vegetation, reducing fire hazards, increasing water capture, and promoting the diversity of plant. With education, Larson believes, people who hike, bike and horseback ride can coexist peacefully with the cattle.

Cattle may seem intimidating because of their size, but they are vulnerable to attack by coyotes and other predators. As prey animals, cows naturally experience and express fear and protective behavior, especially when unfamiliar people and animals are near and to protect their young.

Cattle can feel threatened by dogs, which they will perceive as predators. The guidelines recommend keeping dogs close and under complete control at all times. Just like people, dogs should never get between a cow and her calf.

The guidelines detail typical cattle posture when relaxed and when agitated, their response to intrusions into their personal space (or “flight zone”), and reactions to loud noises.

“Unless you need to move cattle out of your way, such as move them off a narrow trail, it's best to give them plenty of space and avoid their flight zone altogether,” the guidelines advise.

Injured cattle should be reported and left alone. The guidelines suggest people never approach a cow from behind, make quick movements or flap their arms, or try to “rescue” calves that seem to be separated from their mothers.

“The mother may be off drinking or eating, and will return to the baby,” the authors write. “She may even be watching you.”

Co-authors of the guidelines with Larson are Sheila Barry, UC ANR livestock and natural resources advisor in the Bay Area, and rangeland management consultant Lisa Bush.

An initiative to maintain and enhance sustainable natural ecosystems is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 11:13 AM
Tags: cycling (1), hiking (1), rangeland (11), Sheila Barry (1), Stephanie Larson (1)

Thinning is an effective tool for management of blue oak woodlands

Blue oak trees are only found in the coastal and Sierra foothills of California.
Stately oak trees with blue-green leaves – known as blue oaks – are found in the foothills of California's Sierra Nevada and coast range, and nowhere else on earth. They are valued for their beauty, wildlife habitat, shade and acorn production. Protecting the resource poses challenges since the vast majority of blue oak woodlands are part of privately held ranches where owners use the landscape to raise cattle for a living.

Researchers with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) have worked with landowners for decades to help them manage these oak woodlands in ways that balance the ranchers' economic needs with ecological considerations.

In the late 1990s, Tulare County ranchers Jim and Gay Versteeg were interested in thinning their blue oak stands in order to improve biodiversity of the forage growing on the land. The family offered UC ANR researchers three acres to study blue oak tree management practices to better understand the impacts of various thinning practices.

For thousands of years, fire was an important part of California's oak woodlands. Native Americans and, more recently, ranchers set fires to improve habitat and enhance desirable vegetation. However, aggressive fire exclusion during the last 30 years has led to significantly denser stands of blue oak trees.

“We looked into the fire history on the Versteeg ranch,” said Richard Standiford, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Berkeley. “It burned about every 13 years prior to 1965, but since then, there have been no fires at all.”

Standiford conducted the study with two San Joaquin Valley-based Cooperative Extension natural resources advisors, Neil McDougald of Fresno and Madera counties and Ralph Phillips of Kern County. One-third of the study area was moderately thinned, and one-third was heavily thinned. For comparison purposes, the researchers left one-third of the study area untouched. The study area excluded livestock, but it was accessible to deer and rodents.

Blue oak trees regenerate after thinning.
Over a period of 11 years, acorn production, stump sprouts, forage composition and forage yields were evaluated in each study block. Standiford said thinning the stand enhanced forage production, which is favorable for cattle ranchers. In areas with the highest level of thinning, there was the highest level of forage. However, the thinning did not enhance vegetative biodiversity, as the ranchers hoped.

“The Versteegs thought that, with more sunlight, the amount of native grasses would increase, but that wasn't the case,” Standiford said. “The vegetation in all the plots was mostly grasses and forbs that were introduced after Europeans began settling California, as it is in most oak woodland around the state.”

Thinning did result in the growth of younger trees from stump sprouting.

“We want the sprouts to come back to provide the next generation of trees so when the big ones die or blow over, there are young trees to take their places,” Standiford said. “The main way in which blue oaks regenerate is sprouting from stumps.”

Acorn production on a landscape scale was not impacted by thinning. Trees in the thinned plots produced more acorns per tree, however, because there were fewer trees, the same amount of acorns per acre was produced.

Standiford shared the results of the study with ranchers, land managers and researchers at the 7th California Oak Symposium in 2014; the research will be published in the symposium proceedings later this spring. He said the study results validate for landowners that thinning is an appropriate management practice on blue oak rangeland. Forage increases, the trees survive and grow back.

“If ranchers intend to thin every 15 years or so, moderate thinning is acceptable,” Standiford said. “If this is something they would do every 30 years, they could thin heavily.”

An initiative to maintain and enhance sustainable natural ecosystems is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Friday, February 20, 2015 at 8:39 AM

Fast and easy rangeland monitoring using repeat photography

Pictures of smaller plots record vegetation and soil surface detail changes.
Larger views provide information about landscape level changes.

Statements such as: "This year is the best (or worst) grass year of my adult life" or "We started seeing this weed on our property about 10 years ago and now it is all over" are commonly used to describe rangeland condition. Although such statements are most likely correct, what is lacking in most cases is rangeland monitoring data to support these statements.

What is rangeland monitoring? Rangeland monitoring is observing, collecting and analyzing data to document change over time and how these changes may relate to management and environmental factors such as climate and soil.

Landowners need monitoring programs to detect:

  • Rangeland improvement so they know to continue the good management
  • Negative changes in order to take corrective measures
  • Weed infestation in order to start weed control
  • Effects of an extreme event, e.g. drought.

Although most ranchers and rangeland scientists agree that rangeland monitoring data is critical for landowners to make informed management decisions and to better understand rangeland ecosystems, the problem is that most monitoring protocols can be time consuming and data too complex to analyze and interpret. This is especially true for rangeland managers and landowners who are busy with all the day-to-day land, animal and infrastructure management. As a result most find it difficult to add consistent rangeland monitoring to their schedules.

However, repeat photography, which is a simple and fast monitoring method that produces easy to interpret information, can be the answer. Although repeat photography does not provide detailed information, it can show changes in plant growth, plant cover, species composition, residual biomass, litter and vegetation structure.

Establishing a good repeat photo monitoring protocol involves selecting the right 1) site to take photos, 2) plot size (small plot to landscape view), 3) timing (what season) and 4) frequency (how often) to take photos, based on the goals. When monitoring for trends at management unit level, it is best to select a site that is representative of a largest part of the management unit.

For more information, see the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources guideline for using photographs to monitor rangeland, Photo-Monitoring for Better Land Planning and Assessment.

Posted on Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 9:17 AM

Looking ahead: Post drought rangeland management

"Drought and taxes have a lot in common. They are both facts of life that must be dealt with periodically, they are both pains in the neck, and they both carry serious consequences if we choose to ignore them." - Jeff Mosley, Extension Range Management Specialist, Montana State University, Bozeman.

Drought-impacted annual rangeland near Oakdale, Calif. (Photo: Holly George)
The past few years, particularly this past growing season, have been very challenging for most producers due to drought. Drought is one of the problems where the question is not if it will happen, but when, how intense, how long it will last and how prepared are the producers?

As a result, producers over the years have developed strategies to cope with the inevitable effects of drought. Ranchers are tremendously affected by drought mainly because of their dependence on annual precipitation for forage production.

Drought affects ranchers through loss in forage production, water shortage, and higher prices and reduced availability of supplementary feed. In the past year alone, many workshops and web resources were put together to provide drought management tools and information for the ranching community. The Drought Management Workshop at the Sierra Foothills Research and Extension Center and the California Rangeland Watershed Laboratory website are two good examples. 

Now may be the right time to look ahead and plan for the future. The two most important questions rangeland managers need to ask themselves are:

  1. What have we been doing well that we need to continue building upon?

  2. What changes do we need to make to improve future production, and maintain or improve resilience to future droughts?

This process can be daunting, but dividing the activities into short-term, medium-term and long-term categories may help make the planning process less overwhelming. This way, one can focus on a few activities at a time while building towards long-term resilience.

Short-term: The first year after a drought period, cow-calf producers will be focusing on rebuilding their herd. During this process, paying particular attention to herd genetics and health is critical. Rebuilding a herd after a severe drought may be a good opportunity to bring in new qualities that were previously missing. Examples of characteristics to consider include good mothering ability (weaning weight, early calving, calving ease), temperament, livestock that will not only survive, but thrive in your environment, animals suitable for your target markets and animals with a history of good health and management.

It may be a good idea to start slow with the herd-building process or stock lower than normal for stocker operations the first year after a drought. This is especially true for rangelands that had lower than the recommended residual dry matter (RDM) levels before the fall rains started. University of California researchers found that optimum RDM levels (old herbaceous plant biomass left before the fall rains) in annual rangelands tend to increase with slope and decreases with woody cover. Lower RDM is expected to result in lower than normal forage production and lower species richness. The first year after drought, ranchers may want to explore available drought or emergency programs (e.g. FSA programs) that may help in the process of rebuilding the herd or providing feed and water for their livestock.

Medium-term: Two to three years after drought, ranchers should continue building their herds, monitor rangeland condition and actively manage rangeland weeds, if any. During this period, livestock numbers can be increased to optimal levels because even annual rangelands that had lower RDM due to drought conditions are likely to be fully recovered from drought effects within three years. Starting or continuing a rangeland monitoring program to measure forage production and RDM is critical at this stage in order to generate information necessary to make management decisions.

Monitoring forage production, in the medium-term and eventually long-term, is important for setting conservative stocking rates. Weed management has to be one of the main priorities in any management programs, because drought conditions sometimes increase the risk for weed invasion. If left unchecked, weed invasion will reduce rangeland carrying capacity in the long-term by reducing rangeland nutritional value as weeds continue to replace preferred and more palatable species.

Long-term: The fourth year onwards is about building flexibility into the system to accommodate fluctuations in forage production over time that occur in these complex ecosystems. The more flexibility built into the system the more resilient the operation. A production system with different animal types, e.g. cow-calf and stockers, allows for more flexibility to increase livestock numbers during periods of good forage production and reduce numbers when drought conditions return. Going further to add other livestock species would make sense if conditions are ideal. This is the time to look for more options to increase grazing land, by leasing more land if available; and building relationships with suppliers of local agricultural bi-products that are good livestock feed. Alternative on-ranch enterprises like value-adding and agro-tourism could be options for some. Water availability in all pastures used during the dry season should be planned, to ensure reliable water is available for the livestock during dry seasons. Drought resilience tends to increase as a producer makes more effort to integrate drought management tools into the management plan.

Posted on Wednesday, September 3, 2014 at 12:27 AM
Tags: Drought (2), rangeland (11), RDM (1)

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