“Drought Busters” at Circle Ranch
These are pictures of areas that were holistic-planned grazed and sub-soiled on contour with a Yeomans Plow earlier this year.
All of our subsoiled areas were first grazed then plowed on contour, using Keyline techniques and a Yeomans Plow.
Most treated areas remain full of creosote and tarbush. We don’t really understand if these plants create bare ground or if they just like to grow where grass is already dying out: Lots of opinions but no sure explanations. Probably many influences are at work including over-rest and over-grazing.
This was dead ground in the foreground before plowing. There are lots of weeds and new plants coming up inside and between the chisel lines.
Those are the Eagle Mountains in the background.
Dead grass plants adjoin an eroded roadbed which has bled water out of topsoil. But after plowing, new plants are coming up, and lots of weeds. Weeds come first and then they get replaced by grass.
Big response in background. That area gets more water, but as it fills with plants, water is forced to back up and spread out, accelerating the recovery of adjacent areas.
Lots of ranchers dislike weeds especially ‘exotics’ like thistle, but they should bless anything that will grow in desert. And, quail, pronghorn, deer and cows eat those weeds and their seeds. Wildlife hides in them. The weeds will lead to grass with proper grazing management.
One winter during the drought we did not run cows, but I tried mowing a subsoiled area to mimic grazing and see what would result. After seeing a surprising, accelerated growth of plants that summer, I guessed this might be the result of mowing setting back creosote. Something like spike.
My hunch is that mowing is not just far-cheaper than spike: Mowing avoids spike’s terrible side effects of killing forbs, especially the deep-rooted perennial forbs which so help water penetration and early spring green up.
Do not hurt your forbs! No forbs means no pronghorn, deer, quail etc. Even cows can get up to 1/3 of their food from forbs. Baby quail and turkey cannot survive without the bugs that live on forbs. “Noxious weeds” is an oxymoron!
This spot was grazed, mowed, and is being subsoiled.
The little red flags mark the contour lines, which are easy to set with a laser transit: One man can do it all.
Here is that same spot in August. Note the little plants sprouting, and regrowth of creosote.
The area above was grazed and mowed but not subsoiled: there are waterlines in there. Grazing is the most important thing for land but it can’t fix everything. Bulldozers, and the Yeomans Plow are add-on practices.
In applying the tool of mowing, another debate is whether to scalp mow or 6-inch high mow. We have tried it both ways and the 6-inch high comes back quicker. Long term, maybe scalped creosote will be overtaken by forbs and grass and shaded into submission. But maybe scalping kills perennial forbs. This is an experiment and we will not know until several growing seasons have passed.
Here is another thought: creosote belongs in our deserts: We don’t want creosote gone, we just do not want it to crowd everything else out.
We cannot restore biodiversity by destroying biodiversity.
Based on several years of experience we know the response to grazing and to the Yeomans Plow is always good, although much better if something is still alive where we graze and plow. Dead ground is really, really tough because how does any seed find purchase in bare, hot, dry, organic-free dirt? How do you induce cows to stay where there is nothing to eat?
The Yeomans Plow can help get plants started but after a few years the ground will re-seal. Unless something is growing by then, conditions will return to where they were. Only planned grazing can maintain plant health and keep that from happening.
Mowing the plants with large grazers like cows is critical but it cannot get water out of this gully. Treating eroded roadbeds and associated gullies is another step to get water out on grasslands, where it belongs.
Then in selected areas, the Yeomans Plow will help accelerate the process.
Selective mowing may help where creosote and tar bush dominate.
All done together, this is a process we call “Drought Busters”.
Drought Busters works, but don’t expect instant miracles: Years are needed for results to fully appear.
And it has to rain! The idea should be to get plants and ground healthy so when rain falls, as it will, water soaks in instead of running off and evaporating.
Keep at it; don’t become discouraged. Your patience and persistence will be rewarded.
First year growth. Our neighbor is on the right.
First year growth. Our neighbor is on the left.
We are on both sides.
Here is our friend, “Cowboy Bob” Kinford’s take on this:
All of us at Circle Ranch would like to thank Gary Fuentes and his colleagues at NRCS for helping us with Drought Busters.
I highly recommend Drought Busters to anyone ranching in the deserts of far-West Texas, provided you use these tools to nudge your systems back towards their natural functions.