Circle Ranch Keyline Contrast Photos: 9/4/10


Regarding our Yeomans Keylining progress, here are the latest photos with my comments:


October 1, 2009.  Last summer was dry.  I chose this spot because we had bare ground and minimal grass respose to several years of rain.  Grass was disappearing within the tarbush community seen beyond the tractor.


September 4, 2010.  Same area of treatment as shown above.  Good rains.  No sub-soiling was done on the right.

Forbs coming up along the chisel line.

Grass has more seeds, foliation, and note the forbs.  No sub-soiling was done above the abundant seed head area.

The tractor had to bypass this spot which was between two small trees.  Note the difference in plants compared to the  uncultivated area.  Entire area below was subsoiled.

Here we are seeing a prairie dog town.  A south-facing aspect, and shallow soil reduces the depth of the chisel run.  We are trying to control the headcut shown below, and also a deep gully formed  downstream.

We are treating the area above this to starve the headcut which is going on up the meadow above.

We went as high as we could, until soil became rock ledges, and slopes got steep.  The plow ran pretty shallow in this picture.


The general idea is to keep the water out of the gully.  But doing this also helps the grasses, and encourages forbs.  The white strips are headed-out grass plants.  Forbs in between.  Compare seed production with the untreated area at mid-left of photo.


Lots of new forbs; really lots of them in some places, but not in all.  It seems to depend on whether the plow ran deep, but maybe it is soil depth that controls both plow depth and plant response.

To me this is the most surprising outcome.  In the foreground is untreated area (we have pipelines in here and had cut them twice).  Background is treated.  Note that this was bare ground with creosote, with here-and-there grass hanging on, like the foreground.  The soil crust is at least four inches thick, but the soil is very fine and very, very deep though low in organics.

The forbs form solid strips along the chisel line, and the grass has filled out between the chisel furrows.  You can no longer see the plow lines.  Also, note the tops of the taller creosote & tarbush plants peaking above the forbs and grass which is now higher.  This was done in June, before the monsoons began.  So all this growth was from July 4 – September 4.  The white flecks in the background is white bare ground showing through the canopy of creosote.

Rains have been good but this area often got rain and runoff, and animal impact.

We also treated along a slope above the bottom.  Note the creosote in the foreground, the millet (milo was a bust) , and the grass with lots of seed.  Beyond the bottom you can see the bare ground which was not subsoiled.

Lower left corner not treated.  Note the sub-soiled bottom below the road.  Below, we treated about 1/2 mile by 300 feet: about 17 acres.  It cost about  $175.00 counting only diesel and labor.  For the burn advocates (which I am not): a fire will now carry through the subsoiled area if the burn plan is to remove tarbush (Flourensia cernua) and creosote (Larrea tridentata).  That area below the road has tarbush/creosote like what you see beyond: it is just that the forbs and grass are now higher!  Maybe the extra soil moisture and competition will take care of the creosote and tarnish. Just my speculations concerning whether we might consider this as a cheap, and, plant & soil life-friendly means of brush control.

This was treated just before our last rain.  There are not many surviving plants to be the pioneers as in the other photos above.  We will watch and see what happens.

This spot has gotten 15” of rain, and considerable runoff, since last October. We have many places like this which have not responded to rain or to animal impact.  900 animals were in this pasture this winter, but then, what motive would any of them have to linger on this spot?!  So dry the creosote is dying, and, note the surface erosion.  I am very glad to have found something that seems to work on places like this, and surprised that these might respond better than other, healthier spots, as the photos above show. Why is this so?  Maybe because the soils are so deep?  So permeable once the 4” crust is broken?  Have trapped minerals?

Again, a disclaimer: I do not want to over-state.  And yet, the pictures speak for themselves.  Total rain, and timing of that rain, has been really great.  Not all the areas treated are as dramatic as some of these pictures, but the results are noticeable, without exception, in all treated areas. I do not know if these results are flashes-in-the-pan, or if in combination with planned grazing,  the responses can be sustained in years to come (but why not?).   I am very pleased to have a cheap and physiologically-effective way to ramp up forb production for quail, doves, pronghorn and deer and also bring back these sick grass plants in these seemingly-intractable areas.  I really like the idea of not harming existing plants, forbs, and soil life, as with spike and most plows.  In my preliminary opinion, there are many intriguing possibilities for wildlife as well as plants, gully treatment, etc. when this little plow is used as an add-on to planned grazing, treating those areas which for whatever reason do not respond to animals or grazing timing.

I would like to show NRCS staff these results as I think this particular soil technique merits EQUIP or WHIP support in some form or fashion.  It might be a great way for NRCS to get more bang-for-its-buck in these under-funded times.

So far so good. Stay tuned!

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  • After reading the description of keyline principles ideas occur to me for methods of managing run-off on a small parcel we have owned for the last few years in edwards co. tx. Would it be benifical to apply the logic to catch and diperse run-off across hard limestone draws in order to create new deposits of growing medium rather than for cultivation of existing?..The property is overgrown w/cedar and selective cutting is a major activity. TP&WD biologists suggested brush piles,first few were placed convieniently atop areas of rock with no vegetation but soon became so numerous that it was unsightly. Next we chose to use piles to restrict the flow in the low dry creek runs and it has become noticable how the force can restructure the terrain.Occasionally out of conveinience I have used the result of cuttings locally were they fell and integrated them directly to that area in a way that would retain/direct run-off. Your articles have stimulated ideas of merging the principles described relating to keypoints in a valley with decisions of locations/placement of brush retention features between the valley and the ridge in order to preserve and create soil pockets in a landscape. THANKS

  • Dear Mr. Flagg,Although they sometimes help, I have wasted lots of effort on impoundments and diversion structures. Once water is in a gully it is too late. Most structures are built without an understanding of hydrology of our surface flows: you must never fight nature, just ‘go with the flow’. And, address water as far upstream from the ‘problem’ as possible!Here is what works best in my experience: (1) cattle and their animal impact. This gets plants invigorated and healthier plants cause water to soak into the ground where it falls. This is the most important thing to be done. See the blog section on range science to understand why. (2) Keyline will help as an add-on if applied well above the draws. Let’s discuss this, I am being advised by Ken Yeomans in Australia on this very point with respect to troublesome headcuts at Circle.Unless you get animal impact however you are doomed to failure. No animals is why you are covered up in cedar (juniper) in the first place and it will keep coming back. We have a seminar in Marfa this Wednesday 9/29, and I will be presenting on this, and demonstrating the plow at Circle Thursday 9/30. Or contact HMI: pcole@holisticmanagement.orgOr me directly: christophergill@lngres.comThanks for this interesting comment.Sincerely, Chris Gill

  • I find your site to be very interesting; thanks for posting such great information. I have been practicing Holistic Planned Grazing for 10+ years, and I was curious how the subsoil plowing would work in your climate. I was not able to make the tour in September, so I am glad to see the photos and hear your reactions. I am currently a graduate student at the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management in Kingsville, so I may make it your way while in Texas. Keep up the good work.

  • Dear Jeremy,Thanks for this nice compliment. For me the hardest thing is to wait patiently while our deserts respond in super-slow motion. Contact me at anytime if you want to visit.

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