South Central Kansas Rancher Ted Alexander, in his presentation named "Drought Survival 101", stated his suggestions for drought-proofing a ranch, which include keep records, know your grazing principles, and have positive energy. "Do not wait or hope for rain," Alexander said. "Try doing what nature would want us to do."
For record keeping, Alexander has reported the rainfall for Barber County to the National Weather Service since 1986, and with this information he is able to determine the amount of rest his pasture needs. He said on an average year sections of his rangeland only needed to rest for 60 days, but now he has estimated a rest period up to 300 days for his land.
According to Dwayne Rice, NRCS state rangeland management specialist, rest is defined as the absence of grazing animals, while recovery can only take place when the plants are being rested and actively growing.
"Rest is the most important thing," Alexander said. "We are now looking at our landscapes as communities, how do we contribute to the community?" Alexander likes the flexibility of management intensive grazing (MiG) (emphasis on the 'management'), because he is able to move the livestock off a section of rangeland as needed.
Dale Strickler, an agronomist for Star Seed Inc., said "rotational grazing often becomes rotational overgrazing."
Move livestock before you think you need to, one day of overgrazing is equal to one extra week of rest, Strickler said. Knowing when to move livestock off the pasture or rangeland is important to the grasses' health, and in order to do that task well we must know more about the plants.
Strickler explained that there are three parts of a plant life cycle: vegetative, reproduction and dormant. The vegetative stage has the highest quality of nutrition for an animal. The reproductive stage is lower quality, but the growing points on the plants become elevated and they start to produce seed heads, said Strickler. "MiG has a chance to do harm to the plant during the reproductive stage," said Strickler.
The dormant stage has the lowest quality of nutrition for the animal, and the plant is in a non-growing period. All the carbohydrates and non-structural protein is moved underground, but the plant becomes very tolerant to defoliation, Strickler said.
In terms of grazing principles, Alexander said on his ranch the average annual rainfall is 21 inches. If the year has rainfall that is less than 80 percent of average, he decreases the stocking rate by 30 percent. If rainfall is 60 percent less than average he suggests decreases stocking rate by 40 to 50 percent. The stocking rate is defined as the area of land allotted to each animal for the grazing period.