AoR 35: Frank Price, Has Scientific Communication Failed the Art of Range Management?

When does science become art? We often refer to the “Art and Science of Range Management’ but how often do we acknowledge the “art” or the “artist?” in today’s world of ever-expanding technology and engineering, many aspects of the “art” of natural resource and land management are being overshadowed by a desire for predictability driven decision processes. This session with Jenny Pluhar and Frank Price, involving a conversation with H.L. Bentley, Special Agent in Charge of Grass, Abilene, Texas Field Station, 1898, was recorded at the Society for Range Management annual meeting in Denver in February 2020. 

The desire to be “right,” or better yet, to not be “wrong,” weighs heavily on the decision-maker and ultimately can lead to inaction for fear of getting the science wrong. Science and management theory have become a driver for many decision-makers in their efforts to minimize potential negative impacts of decisions made, and in the realm of natural resources, command and control are sought over managed ecosystems. Management decisions must be made every day in the world of land management and are nearly always made with less than perfect and far less than complete knowledge. Those tasked with the responsibility of stewarding the lands they manage are confronted with challenges that require a decision in the present that may have long-term implications, both to the operation as well as across a broad array of society. Added to the basic operational challenges of land management, the impacts of social, political, ecological and economic drivers confront the land manager with a complexity of scenarios that cannot be addressed through traditional scientific methodologies. in addressing these facts, the Society for Range Management recognized that rangeland management is the “art and science” of deploying management decisions on the landscapes. Whereas, academic endeavors rightfully focus on the “science,” the practitioner remains the ultimate decision-maker in the rangeland management system, the “artist” if you will, integrating both “art” and “science” into the decision-making process. in many ways, land management is truly a creative endeavor with the managers creativity producing the art of the management process. Science favors one “right” answer, while the artist may create many scenarios on the landscape, utilizing the science but considering all the other drivers mentioned above. 


[ Music ]

>> Welcome to the Art of Range. A podcast, focused on range lands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, Range and Livestock Specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at Art of Range dot com.

[ Music ]

>> We are reproducing some of the symposia and plenary sessions from the Society for Range Management 2020 Annual Meeting and training in Denver, for the podcast. These were recorded live on February 17 through 20. I selected sessions in consultation with the meeting and technical program chairs that we believed would be widely applicable, and that would not depend heavily on the listener being able to see the accompanying slide show with photographs and charts. With the speaker's permissions, we will provide contact information for each speaker, so that you can request additional information from them directly if you are especially interested in their topic. This episode is from a symposium titled, Has Scientific Communication Failed the Art of Range Management? When does science become art? We often refer to the art and science of range management, but how often do we acknowledge the art or the artist? In today's world of ever-expanding technology and engineering, many aspects of the art of natural resource and land management are being overshadowed for a desire for predictability and precision processes. The desire to be right or better yet, to not be wrong, weighs heavily on the decision maker, and ultimately can lead to inaction for fear of getting the science wrong. Science and management theory have become a driver for many decision makers in their efforts to minimize potential negative impacts of decisions made. And in the realm of natural resources, command and control, more control is sought over managed ecosystems. Management decisions must be made every day in the world of land management, and are nearly always made with less than perfect and far less than complete knowledge. Those that are tasked with responsibility of stewarding the lands they manage are confronted with challenges that require a decision in the present that may have long-term implications. Both to an individual operation, as well as across a broad spectrum of society. Added to the basic operational challenges of land management, the impacts of social, political, ecological, and economic drivers confront the land manager with a complexity of scenarios that cannot be addressed through traditional scientific methodologies. In addressing these facts, the Society for Range Management recognized that range management is the art and science of deploying management decisions on landscapes. Academic endeavors rightfully focus on the science, but the practitioner remains, retains the ultimate decision making authority in the range management system. This person is the artist, if you will, integrating both art and science into the decision making process. In many ways, land management is truly a creative endeavor with the manager's creativity producing the art of the management process. The science tends to favor one right answer while the artist may consider many scenarios. This session is run by Jenny Pluhar [phonetic spelling]. She will introduce special agent H.L. Bentley, an actor, representing a reporter from the Abilene Texas Field Station in 1898, and then we will hear from Frank Price, a rancher in Texas.

>> All right. Welcome to our session this morning. We're going to talk about scientific communication and if we failed the art of grazing management. I'm going to ask you to take a step back in time right now. The year is 1898, and you've been invited into the office of H.L. Bentley. Mr. Bentley, his title was Special Agent in Charge of the Grass Station, Abilene, Texas. It's time that I stop my procrastination. I've got to get this report of the cattle ranges of the southwest out to my supervisors. 1898 has been some type of year. I think right off the top of my head, I could get started here, spell this out pretty good. Here we go. The purpose of this report is to invite the attention of stockmen and farmers of the southwest, to mistakes in dealing with native grasses and other forage plants, and to offer for their guidance some suggestions based on the experience and observations. Kind of need to set the stage, and let everyone that might be reading this, what the early conditions of the ranges in the central Texas might be, and on the grass station here in Abilene. In 1865, large herds of buffaloes ranged almost undisturbed over this entire part of Central Texas. It was not until about 1883, when the Texas and Pacific Railroad first entered this section that there was anything like systematic settlement of the country. It is interesting to late-comers to this area, to listen to the description of the range as it once appeared then. One can inform but a poor idea of what the country was like 25 years ago from looking at its present appearance. At that time, there was little doubt that the ranges would have supported 300 head of cattle to the square mile. It was ideal stock country and there was plenty of water. Now, at the end of only 30 years, almost every condition has changed. The carrying capacity of the range has steadily decreased until it is an exceptional property that can carry one head of stock to five acres. It is claimed that that was a common average rate only 10 years ago. Today it requires at least 10 acres per head. It is often considered not the best policy to put more than 50 cows per section. The reason for these changes are not difficult to discover, if we just look. The range was overstocked, and dozens of cows and sheep were crowded where half the number was too many. Ranges were quickly eaten and trampled out and permanently injured, if not ruined. Its not yet too late to remedy this evil. But no time is to be lost. It's common opinion that rest is all that is necessary to recuperate these ranges the stock men depend so much on, to their former luxury vegetation. But in part, common opinion is here at fault. Resting the range will greatly help it, but something more must be done to bring back its original capacity to support livestock. If that is, indeed, now possible at all. Economics have surely played a role in this issue and will most certainly continue to do so. Also it seems only one stockman in 10 seems to understand the scientific, have any scientific knowledge of the grasses they are grazing, and who can blame them? Take Hilaria Mutica, for instance, in our part of the world it's known as black grama, other parts of Texas, they call it Tobosa grass. There is even a black drama further over in New Mexico that is a different genus. I kind of wonder if we should start suggesting that these stockmen start learning this scientific name for these grasses, be able to identify them by their scientific name, and understand their utilization. Because after all, I've been told my whole career that scientific names don't change [laughter]. Draughts are also a great threat for the degradation of ranges. If during such dry years, the range could be rested, there would be no serious lessening of the carrying capacity. But judging the future by the past, there will be no rest. Another factor tending to decrease the value of ranges is the rapid spread of prickly pear and thorny shrubs over previously open country. And many southern counties, it's been estimated that this cactus and thornbrush encroachment has reduced the stocking rate, the carrying capacity of our land by one-fourth, to one-third over the last 30 years. Surprising how easy it is to start this report, just off the top of my head, of the changes that happen over the last 30 years, and how easy they are to recognize some of the causes. How can we renew these ranges? There must be no more overstocking of the ranges. With the use of the proper measures, the range may continue for many years to be the finest grazing and breeding grounds on the American continent. Well, I think this is a pretty good start. I'm going to have to go back to my notes to get much more in depth, and I need to do this to get to my supervisors. But for heaven sake, it's 1898. We've been at this for about 30 years in this part of the world. With all the new technologies we have in this day and age, there's no excuse for us not to be able to bring back these ranges to their original state. Just think, I can type this report right now, send it out, and in a couple of weeks, it can be printed, and in a matter of mere months, it can be distributed to range stockmen across our state and beyond. Just months. With the rate that information can travel in this day and age, in 1898, we have no excuses. There are new things coming that I've heard of. I hear tell that range scientists are going to start clipping the forage, in determining how much forage is growing per acre. I even hear tell that there is a new measurement system, called the metric system. They will be able to calculate kilograms, a fourth production per hectare. Now, I wonder if this new fangled way of measurement will add some authority to our scientists to make our stockmen more interested in what they have to say? Then again, maybe not. It's already kind of hard to understand what a pound of production on an acre will do when we're setting our stocking rights. But it's 1898. We've been doing this long enough to know what we're doing wrong. It's time for a change.

[ Applause ]

>> Thank you Mr. Bentley. We'll hear some more from him later in the session. How many of you can say you've heard a scientist from 1898 ever before at an SRM meeting? We thought we'd do something a little different to call attention to this topic. I just have a few brief remarks about the art of grazing management. We're good. We're good at science. And we've known what to do for a long time. That example was in Central Texas. Those papers are available. He was a USDA employee. He wrote three or four papers on a typewriter, much like this one. We've known what to do for a long time. The art, however, is what escapes us. How a land steward takes that science and puts it on the landscape is what we struggle with at times. That is the art. I have just a few simple slides. We all see things differently on the range land. This is in the Texas panhandle. Some people look at that image, and they see it's early fall, they see the beautiful fall colors of the grasses. They see the tall grass prairie that I have there. Some can see the two mesas on the far, far horizon in that picture. Those two mesas are where one of the last Plains Indians skirmishes took place. And think about all the societal changes that started with that. Unfortunately, right now, when I look at that picture, I see all the juvenile mesquite, and I know that I've got a lot of IPT work in the coming year. A lot of IPT work, which, by the way, has been successful. We don't have that anymore. So, we all see different things when we look at the range land. And we all have different tools. Here's some range land in Hartley County, Texas. And I want to give you an example on this. This is another ranch that I manage. It has been beat up pretty hard. There's a few people in this room that have been on that ranch. It has been beat up very hard. I've got a beautiful crop of sand drop seed out there. About 28,000 acres of it. It's really something to be proud of. My lessee, he and I work together on the rotations and the stocking rates, and whatnot. He--and that's my hubby, not my lessee, he put it out to a group of scientists, a grazing group, an email group, that he's thinking, can I put that out to these scientists? Can I say what would you do about this stuff? What can we do about this, right? Threeawn, and perennial threeawn, and sand drop seed? He did. We got back six or eight answers, and we've asked a few other people about it. Every one of those answers is correct. Absolutely correct. The science is there. Those answers are right every day of the week. And the answer they gave us was graze it real hard in the early spring, when it first greens up. I have 28,000 acres of this stuff. Has anybody got 15,000 steers they'd like to lend me for two weeks [laughs]. It's the right answer, but it's not a meaningful answer. And many times, I think our science, we don't give meaningful answers to the land stewards. I want to talk about the different kinds of scientists. I just recently read a book called The Honest Broker. And it's kind of based on policy and science. You have your pure scientist. That's the person doing the research. They don't care if it gets to the land steward. They're doing a lot of basic research. It's information that needs to be done. It's work that needs to be done. Other science is based off it. The science arbiter would perhaps be more like the extension agent. They have the ability to tell land owners about the science. They're supposed to be sharing the science. The advocate is the scientist who has become so passionate about his work that he is going to tell you how you must do it. You must have 16 pastures. You must graze this way. You must graze that way. It is the only way. He is the scientist who has become maybe so enamored with his own work that he does not see that one way does not work for all of us. The honest broker of science looks at the science, and then he looks at the landscape, and the rancher and the unique conditions, and collaborates, and figures out how to make that all work together. We, as ranchers, need scientists to be honest brokers of information. We don't need them to be advocates. What could Tinkerbell possibly have to do with range science? Some people know I've written something about Tinkerbell before, and everybody knows I'm crazy, so this is okay. I didn't know if I put this up there. Tinkerbell's magic, right? The scientist in us tells us there's no way a person flies. But when Disney applies a little bit of art to that, guess what? There she goes. And we don't really question that. Grazing management is magic. To me, it's magic, how it works in the ecosystem, and how we apply it is the art. And if we can make people understand that Tinkerbell is possible because of the art, so can good grazing management be possible because of the way we apply the art. Things are not always as they seem in grazing management. We have to look around and realize things just aren't always what they seem. We must remember that grazing management is the foundation of range land management. What we do and how we manipulate ecosystems is grazing management. We can get fancy. We can get scientific. We can get all kinds of things. But grazing management is the foundation of what we do. I'm glad you're here to explore with us today. We're going to talk about scientific collaboration, communication styles, how to get better stuff on the land, on the landscape. You ready? I have for you today Mr. Frank Prince. Frank is from Stirling City, Texas, just north of St. Angelo. He is, he ranches there, on land, quite a bit of it that he leases. How many of you have Facebook? How many of you follow Frank Price. If you don't, you should. Frank puts some grazing management information out there about every two weeks. Seems to be on real early Sunday morning most of the time [laughs]. But excellent information and I talked him into having a Facebook page. Has it been two years? I think it's been about two years. I said, "Frank, you have so much good to share, and we can have workshops, and we can go out on ranches, but you can reach so many more people with social media." So followers of Frank--here he is. And we're Facebook living this session also. The slides will be--the cameras are going to be focused at the slides so that people can see the slides, and they'll be able to ask questions and stuff as well.

>> All right. First off, it is an honor and a privilege to speak for this group. The number of mentors in my career have been leaders of this national organization, people sitting in this room right now that are mentors. And I really appreciate it, if I end up saying something that makes someone uncomfortable, I apologize. It's not--but we've got some issues that really need to be resolved in my opinion. Now, I hope to give you an overview of what my son and I's ranching operation, how it is a sustainable operation for our family. That's what I really hope to show today. And remember, it's not a technical discussion, but an end product one. We hear a lot about sustainability these days. Sustainable beef, sustainable ranching operations and farms, and all, it's an abused word. But when we're taught sustainable range lands, which is directly what makes beef sustainable, my definition is grasslands, that when utilized for a specific goal or purpose, livestock production, are consistently improving, and at a minimum showing equal health and vigor after timely recovery from it. We tend not to take that timely recovery, rest, that's a part of the process. One thing I'm trying to emphasize today, it is extremely important. Now, of interesting note, Mr. Bentley's story starts in 1876. He's writing in 1898. My great-grandfather started ranching in 1876. Mr. Bentley's area of studies was from just north of Menard through Abilene, Texas, up through the Aspermont area, somewhere in there. The counties of Koch, Nolan, and Mitchell were part of that study area. Just so happens that's a part of the area that we ranch in, right now. So there's some pretty interesting correlations there. Now, then, Charles Goodknight, he is a famed Texas Ranger and cattle rancher, observed a die up, and they call it a die up, I don't know why that was, of buffalo in the Concho River Valley in 1867. On the flight up here from Midland yesterday I was reading a book that was written by a Mr. Haley, about Charles Goodknight. He talked of Charles Goodknight from the Concho River Valley, which is where I live, going northeast up to north of Abilene, 120 miles, they were traveling through there, and said that starting in the Concho River Valley, the buffalo were dead, looked like a pumpkin patch of just buffalo laying everywhere. Flies so thick they did not try to eat during the day, they waited until after dark to eat their supper, to eat their breakfast the next morning and they just rode all day long because they didn't want to stop and let the flies just consume them. For 120 miles, Mr. Goodknight made the assumption that it was about 25 miles wide from his guys riding through there and whatnot. Quite possibly millions of Buffalo lay dead. In 1867. Mr. Goodknight made the assumption that they'd starved to death, because the range lands were scraped so short. I really wonder if it might not have been disease. Perhaps introduced by European man when they came in? And those buffalo were so weak, they just couldn't travel. They stayed in the same place. They normally move to new country, part of that rest program. But if that many buffalo died in that area, in 1867, and it's established by Mr. Goodknight, in 1878, when that ranching industry really began to get big, did we have, perhaps, an extended, long-term period of rest? I don't know. But you can kind of read it into that. Now, then, 1876, Mr. Bentley suggests that 300 animal units per section were being grazed. I used a conservative number of 150, because after 10 years, that's what the ranch men were saying we probably should have started at 150. Imagine how good that country was, to sustain that many cattle for 10 years? Just mind boggling to me. But if you take 1876, 150, my great-grandfather in 1910, his records show they were running 64 animal units to the section. In 1965, I was a freshman in high school. My ag teacher taught that we could run 32 animals to the section. 2015, NRCS did a study in Starting County to determine what the grazing capacity of the--average capacity was within the county. They came up with 10. This graph you see does not give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. It...we failed. No other way to put it. We have made no progress as to increasing the grazing capacity, but some individuals have, yes. But overall, you know, I'm taking data that's right in the area that I live in, that I work in, but I come to these places to talk to other ranch men, other producers, and the same things happened, particularly west of the 100th Meridian. They say that the dry area is moving east of that 100th Meridian. We failed. As ranch men. As scientists, as far as I'm concerned. We've got very little to show for our efforts. Now, had a bank president from an agriculture bank, we were talking about the grazing, the declining grazing capacity over the range lands, and the bank president said, "And then it quit raining." That's the assumption that people make. We're in a drier climate now than we were prior to 1876. The records do not show that. I read one where, in the early 1700s, in the Dakotas, they had a 25-year draught. Free range studies, they're supposed to go into the lake bottoms, I don't understand how they make those assumptions, but California is supposedly--many hundreds of years ago had a 100-year draught. Draught is nothing new. We have taken those range land conditions to where we don't have those strong viable root systems, healthy plants, and draught is--affects us much more severely. Another ranch man said--talking about brush encroachment. If I could only get rid of the brush, then the land would recover. We try that all the time. Millions and millions of dollars are spent on brush management. If you do not have an effective grazing management plan in place prior to that brush management, you know, I don't know, five, ten, fifteen years--you're probably going to be doing it again on the same area. We're not making any progress. We're not addressing the cause of the problem. Had a neighbor, talk into the mic, it's hard for me, I move around when I talk. I may slap it a time or two [laughs]. A neighbor, long since gone, when I was just a youngster, made a statement. And said with each succeeding dry spell, we can never run as much livestock as we could prior to that dry spell. That's just draught's fault. That is not the case. You know, we--I listened to the talks Monday about the Yellowstone, what's taking place there, and whatnot. What I heard was that with the buffalo and the elk, they're a wildlife herd. You cannot rest the--move them around. That range land is getting a little more degraded all the time. Some scientists are trying to find excuses for, well, it's really getting better in some respects, but that's not what I heard. And I wasn't here. I was listening to it on Facebook. But we've--we've got to change the mindset of what's going on. Now, our grazing program, I started out, my daddy was a continuous grazer. Moderate to livestocking rates. My ag teacher, I was very fortunate, he's one of my mentors, he talked about forepasture systems, South African Switchback, rest, and how valuable it was, and whatnot. Went to Texas Tech, majored in Economics, but basically had a minor in animal science and range land studies. Which was I'm very fortunate to have that, at that time, Tech was one of the best range schools in the nation. But... I went to--had the opportunity to go to Alan Savory, Stan Parson's school. Learned a lot from that feller. Came home, built wagon wheels, put in the cell grazing. At the time, Mr. Savory was talking about 30 to 60 days rest in a very dry spell going to 90 days rest. I didn't like it. It didn't work. Wasn't home for me. I moved into it too fast. I didn't have the management expertise to handle that level of management. I backed out of it, and went to traditional pastures. The ranch you see right now is lease country. My son and I--every bit of the country that we operate we lease. I own some of it, my son owns some of it. But the partnership, the ranching partnership leases it. The purpose of that partnership is to produce income, consistent income from that ranching operation. But we've taken this ranch, leased ranch about 22 sections. One herd, each of they're all in one pasture, moving from pasture to pasture. Now, you can imagine in a ranch of 22 sections, 17 pastures, if you've got cattle in every pasture, it's going to take one man a full-time job to keep up with it. He may want some help. When we've gone to the single herd program, we have one man that goes over there three days a week, spends about a half day there. It's all the time he spends there. Savings in labor. Now, I've yet to find a ranch that you couldn't go into a single herd grazing program with the existing fences in place. Don't have to build a lot of infrastructure. Water is a different story. You can take those 17 pastures, and have cattle in every pasture, you don't need a whole lot of water in every pasture. You put all the livestock in one pasture, and suddenly you've got a high demand for water for a short period of time, but it has to be there. Planting is an essential part of controlled grazing. The charts you see, the spreadsheet we've developed over time, it shows the move dates. Basically for a year's time, that is not fixed. I may produce one of these charts and two weeks later change it. You're constantly looking at variables. Everything to work with, but during calving season, the red block you see there, we scatter them out during calving season, so we don't have to move them while they're calving. The picture you see, big blue still. That's one of those places that it just appeared. When I started into my grazing programs, I had no concept that Big's Blue Stem Indian Grass was ever on any of our country that we operate. When we went into these long rest programs, and that's where this chart shows you where 250 to 300 days of rest, that's when we really begin to see a big difference. That Big Blue Stem might grow up shoulder high. The picture you see is the only colony of the Big Blue Stem that I know of in that pasture. When this particular place has tiger striped calves, they're a little bit smarter than some calves. Smarter than a whole lot of cowboys in my opinion, turn them into that pasture, that small area of Big Blue Stem. They go to it, and within half an hour, 45 minutes, it's grazed to the ground. No stems. It's that palatable. It's not like Johnson grass, or your sorghum, or whatever, wherever they graze the leaves, and leave the stems. Big Blue Stem is extremely palatable. Now, you can move the cattle out of there, come back in 300 days, put them in there, and those cows that found that spot before, I've watched them do it. They go immediately to that spot. They remember where it was. It's that tasty. Imagine if you're in a continuous grazing program, two cows out there, one cow, every time that Big Blue Stem puts on a little growth, she's going to graze it off. She's eventually going to kill it. Mr. Bentley, you discussed, talked about some of the grasses that were there, and identified a lot of those grasses. Had some real neat drawings of them and whatnot. You never mentioned Big Blue Stem, Indian Grass, I wonder why that was?

>> Mr. Price, I am aware of those species, but just weren't--didn't encounter them on our grass research station in Abilene. Could make the assumption maybe that because of the grazing pressure in the past, they were just not present when I was doing my surveys.

>> And [inaudible], in 30 years time, it killed those grass--don't turn it off, I've got another one for you here [laughs]. Also in your writings you talked about, in Mitchell County, a ranch man that was studying more intensive grazing programs. Can you--

>> Sure, in Mitch County it was actually as far as grazing programs fairly simple. The stock man decided that he was going to--what he referred to as a seasonal grazing system, basically he grazed one pasture during the growing season, specifically, his other pasture was rested the entire growing season, after frost, during the dormant season, he moved back onto that pasture that was rested the entire growing season, year after year. He did see great improvement in the conditions of the pasture that was rested during the growing season. Of course, there were some changes in species, composition shifts in a pasture that was grazed, during the growing season every year. It wasn't a perfect system but it showed, it was very obvious to see, he mentioned how quickly he was able to see the change in the pasture that he rested every year.

>> If I remember correctly, in Mr. Bentley's studies on that range, that was the first national range land study site in the nation, if I remember correctly? It lasted three years. But Mr. Bentley, in that time frame, went from that, what he was assuming is a start was 50 and reused the section, in three years time took it to 100. Now, I'm going to make the assumption that those grass roots and systems were still there, they just needed the opportunity to have some rest to move forward. Here we are in 1898, Mr. Bentley had established these thoughts. How many people have ever heard of that? Very few, see? We go through grange land studies now, and it's almost a sin to mention rest. I recently read Mr. Sayers' book on the politics of scale, talking about the history of the studies of range land management. Enjoyed reading the book. I found two paragraphs in the entire book that referred to rest. It was primarily about stocking rate, grazing capacity and such as that. We got deeper into the book. It mentioned Alan Savory, and stated quickly said that the scientific community had proven that those philosophies with Alan Savory did not work. Jenny, yesterday, told me she was a part of that first study [laughs]. And then at the end of the book, Mr. Sayer says, Alan Savory may have been right. Our program is not designed after Alan Savory, a lot of the philosophies are there. But animal impact and rest are a huge part of our programs. Now, first place I found Indian Grass was up on the shallow rocky hillside. I never dreamed it grew up there. I thought it would be in the deeper soils. But imagine range lands that had, on the hillsides, without the brush, down in the draws and whatnot, you might have gotten close to 300 a section. I don't know. Now, here is a picture of a place that's got four pastures. I had a man call me just last week saying I'm considering doing some fencing to put in, where I've got the capability of having 100 pastures, and get into a really intensive program. I knew him, but I didn't know him well, and well, how much experience have you got in that type grazing? He said well none, since we're going to get it, I advised him to start off slow. If it's just four pastures, put them all in one pasture. You're grazing 75%, learn from it, then you can begin to move forward. Understanding how plants respond to rest and grazing, that's, I think something the scientific community could stand a lot of time on. The picture on the left, not zoomed in enough. I know it's got some Cower [phonetic spelling] Blue Stem in it. We'll talk about Cower Blue Stem a little bit more in a bit. Well, we'll do it now. Cower Blue Stem, from my daddy planted it, seeded it for years. That was one of the main things. Today Cower Stem is hated by most ranch men. Well, it just lays right flat at the ground, nothing can graze it, a sheep can't even get a leaf off of it, but it will put up seed head a foot, 18 inches high, and that's all you ever get out of it. When we are going into these slow, long rest periods, single-herd grazing, it takes four or five years. Those horizontal leaves begin to turn vertical in that Blue Stem. They'll get to where they grow up a foot, 18 inches high. And what plants we're just flat on the ground, cattle love it. We're finding that Indian Grass seedlings tend to come up in areas like KR, in the heart of that KR plant. That's where that seedling gets started. I'm assuming the soil nutrients are better there. It's probably more moisture because of the shading of the soil, and gives those climax grasses a place to get started. The other picture was grazed in November of last year. Photo was taken in January. You can see the winter grass. Going to be Texas winter grass, and then some Canada wild rye. It's getting started. Some guys will say we need to get back in there and graze it right now. No, we're going to wait. We're going to give it a chance to really establish itself well. Stockmanship is a huge issue. If you're moving those livestock on a regular basis, those cattle need to understand, and they do, that you've made your signal it's move day, they're going to walk to the next pasture, walk through the gate, put their heads down and go to grazing. There's no stress at all on them. Working them in the pens, they need to enjoy being in the pen, and it's just the only way to do it, in my opinion. All right. Picture showing Texas Bluegrass. A cool season grass, that if you read the book on it, it will be in the low areas, deeper soil, more moisture. This is up on a hillside. You can see the rimrock up above it. It's middle August, 100 degree days, it didn't read the book or something. You move cattle in there, they're going to graze it all to the ground quickly. It's a very powerful grass. Now, with increasing these cool season plants, we do not feed mature cattle. No hay, no cakes, no tubs, no blocks. We do have a mineral, salt mineral program. At some point in time that may change until soil health gets better. Don't know. Now, we've got less labor. And no feeding. Profitability is becoming a much easier goal to accomplish. We're working with nature. Thus, our calving time, we calf the first of February. That means we don't put bulls out until April 26. We have had a green--spring green-up, hopefully, that's not too dry. Get a natural flushing of the cattle. And the livestock genetically we start off with a tiger stripe cow, we put an Angus bull onto her, that gives us a super baldy, black baldies, that's what I call them. That's the mainstay of our program. We've taken three crosses, then we put a Charolais bull onto those, for a terminal cross. We've got four crosses. We've taken hybrid vigor to as far as I'm planning to take it. The cattle are adapted to our environment. They've been raised in it. They understand our program. And all of that put together makes a neat package for us. Now, we talked about KR blue stem a little bit. Let's see if I can pull this deal off here. Let's watch this cow for a minute. Most of our cattle, that's the way they are around this week. We can get pretty close to them. Tiger stripe would be a little different deal. She's going to walk off, and we're going to look over there and see what she's been eating. It's kind of fun tracking a cow. Don't know if y'all have ever done that to actually look and see what she does eat. KR Blue Stem, it's what she's eating. She's got a lot of choices there. She's eating that KR Blue Stem. Okay! We've got some of these introduced species, invaders, let's just make the best of it. When we go into that good grass rest program, it gives us opportunity to see some of those things happen. Warm season, cool season, over on the left. Texas cut grass, really neat grass. It's one of the last to die in the fall, or brown out. It's one of the first to green up in the spring. Cattle like it. Used to be the only place we saw it was growing up in a bush, protected. Now it's just scattering all over the place. Pretty sweet deal. Side oats is mixed in that, over on the right, we've got some Engelmann Daisy, our farms are very important. We're learning, we're killed, most of them Illinois bundle flower, Maximillian Sunflower, Bush Sunflower, but as we get--we're finding, haven't found any Illinois [inaudible] flower yet, I'm going to have to [inaudible] that. But it's beginning to increase, and...all right. Animal impact. We heard it Monday. This talking about Yellowstone. Animal impact on those plants, grazing them, stimulated, those growth modes, I'm assuming that's what it is, you invigorate them. And yet, we've got that tool we're using to get our pastures in better condition, and that's our income producer too. Now, when we do not feed those cows, our calving percentage, we still wean from bred cow 93-95% calf crop. While that is in the area we're in, it's not severe--how folks up north survive ranching I don't know [laughs], it's past me. But parasites, we run sheep on one of our places, wooled sheep. We haven't drenched in years. There's two reasons. Genetics. Some sheep, cattle too, are more genetically immune to parasites. And then when you're in that long rest program, the life cycle of the worm, it's about 21 days, and that worm that is within the--stomach of the sheep or the cow, lays those eggs, they're pooped out onto the ground, those eggs hatch, those little new worms crawl up into that grass plant, or that weed plant, waiting for somebody to bite them off. But if there's not any livestock there to bite them off, they die. Pretty sweet deal. All right. Less labor. No feed. Less fuel. Less equipment. More dollars in the bank. Our accountant made a comment one time, and he said you're supposed to show a loss in your ranching operation every now and then, so we can get some loss and deduction. And I said well I'm sorry, we're not going to change our methods. We kind of like it the way it is. Now, these pictures were taken in June of last year. My first weather-related event of my life I was born in '51. The fifties draught was in place. I was outside playing by myself, I don't know how old I was, three? Four? But I looked up, here comes this rolling red cloud. I turn and run for the house. As far as I was concerned, it was dark. It's midafternoon, before I got to the house, I was a scared puppy let me tell you. The next event I remember was when it started raining, had that draught, bare ground everywhere, a very small rain ran lots of water. The place I was showing you the picture of was 17 pastures, we had some really heavy rains in the fall of '18, and in fact, we'll see a picture here in a minute of some of the water from there. A neighbor got up in his fixed wing plane, and with one of his brothers in law, they were flying around [inaudible] County, and Koch County, and [inaudible], just looking at the water run. Just seeing how much was really running. And they--his brother-in-law, who just so happens is my daughter's brother-in-law, kind of two sides of the creek there, his daddy was one of the first farmers in West Texas to get into no tail farming. He started out, and the humus in the soil was .3% when he went into no tail farming. Five years later, he was at 5%. Tremendous change. He was using less water, less fertilizer, and yielding higher percentage con crops. Was no tail farming. So this young man was, he is aware of the soil, soil management and whatnot, he told me about two weeks after they'd flown over, they flew across that 17 pasture place, to land, and he said everywhere we had gone it was running muddy water. Until we flew across that place. It was running clear water at about half the rate of anywhere we'd been. That, folks, was the compliment of a lifetime. Draught management. So this is a 1930s picture there, of the dustbowl era. When you get a solid turf of grass on the ground, shading, we had this past summer, that went for about five months, with no rain at all. Came a half inch rain, four days later, I got over into the area where this green picture was taken, solid turf of grass. Four days after that, half inch, that's all we'd had. You could scratch down into that soil, and it was moist. You scratch and you come up with what I consider new soils. They were moist which is to push them together and it didn't stick together, they just fell apart. Just smell of it, smell that sweet smell. Smelled sweet to me, anyway. You go anywhere it was bare ground, after that half inch of rain, it had long since evaporated. You got no value off it at all. At all. That's where this grazing management is so important. Animal impacts and risks. Now, while I'm--there's a number of different grazing management programs. There's some extremely intense ones. I've got friends, the Birdwells in Henrietta, Texas. They're in a 30, 35, sometimes 40 inch rainfall belt. Ours is in the 16 to 18 inch area, so it's totally different perspective. Emory, and he's, for a number of years, has began as cell grazing got more intensive, more intensive, Emory is to the point now where he's running five to six thousand heavy urns all in one group, moving four times a day. I'll look him in the eye, and I'm, Emory, you're doing an excellent job, you get good performance out of your cattle, your country is improving quickly, and I'm too lazy to do that [laughter], but it's really neat that he can get that done. But with the draught management, in the single herd, when we move out of a pasture, we'll do a little quick analysis, it's not real official, but when we move out, we'll say if it doesn't rain for 250 days before we come back to that pasture, can we graze it again? And if we say it's going to be marginal, I don't know if we can or not--caution flag goes up. Am I getting closer to the mic again [laughs], I'm sorry. The next pasture we move out of, if it has the same signals, if you can't go back to it immediately the red flag goes up and we move into a draught management plan. Knowing that it's going to be that far off. But it gave us an opportunity to a signal that we'd better start paying attention. And that's one of the neat things about this grazing program. One thing that disturbs me, we talk about take half, leave half, half of what? I can't relate to that. Really can't. You take that Big Blue Stem, we're going to graze it to the ground. Even at KR Blue Stem, they graze it down, way past half. If you take half of your total tonnage, anyway, I just can't relate to that. That's one of those things that I don't even worry about. Which I don't know where that puts a lot of you folks with that, but that's--now and then, of course we've talked about our deep rooted plants, look at this picture, we've got Indian Grass. We've got Big Blue Stem out there, brown dormant plants around them. It's just dry weather, it's what it is. That's a cool deal, folks. Now, you know, we got to talk about, and it is worth talking about many, many times. Less labor, less fuel, less equipment, less parasites, less issue with draught. Better herd health. Wildlife, nutritional health, more pounds of livestock produced per acre. Carbon sequestering, we hadn't touched on that yet. They're seeing more and more, some studies, that in healthy grasslands, more carbon is sequestered and put into the soil, and of course oxygen released, from grasslands, than it is forest lands. We have a tool that the environmental folks say they would like to see, is we would need to sequester that carbon and get the CO2 out of the atmosphere. We can do it. We just need to get them to where they understand that process. We should be their best asset, if that is their ultimate goal. And I'm not going to step into that one. Erosion, that is the first place to recovery in the bottom of these creeks. Have a man that worked for my daddy for 45 plus years, over in Koch County, a pretty erosive sandy clay loam soil. Some of the ditches would be 8 feet wide, 15 feet tall, straight banks, in fact, one of his comments early in childhood, he said, yeah, I've been here long enough. I dug about half of these ditches myself. And it's like, no he didn't dig all of those ditches. But he watched them appear over that 45 years. We're going to these intensive grazing programs, we're given adequate rest. The first place to get moisture is the bottom of those washes. Those guts. If you've got a good grazing management program, where those grasses can get established down there, then it becomes a bigger rain, and in the first places to catch the topsoil, it's washed from somewhere else. When we first started in 18--excuse me, 1984, I believe, on our first program, a little more intensive, we had about two miles of a creek. The creek bank, you could cross it in two places in a vehicle. You had to pick your spot to cross on horseback. Today, you can drive across anywhere you want to in a vehicle. It's a cool deal. Right. This repairing area, we're going to watch it. That is a part of the grazing program. It is not fenced out. It is my opinion that with proper grazing management, your repairing areas are more healthy with a livestock impact there. And that goes against what a lot of people say, but I see it on a regular basis, every day. This particular creek, this was after about two weeks after what the weatherman called a 50- to 100-year flood. And you can see the results of that. You can see the chunks of soil there. There's one there laying down. You see a Switch Grass up there. So we had a really healthy ecosystem that came at the 100-year flood, and yet we're still getting that, and clearwater, that creek today is still running. That's about 18 months. That does not happen in our part of the world, folks. That's really exciting. There's some vine mesquite. Vine mesquite is another one of those grasses that we only saw down around where they had a little more access to water and whatnot. We're finding it up on the tops of the hills and sides of the hills. It's one of those dense grass areas you can imagine you get just a little bit of rain, what's going to happen there? The soil health is taking place. Now look right in the middle of the picture, you're going to assume that's a cow patty. It's not. It's a prickly pear plant. I'm beginning to wonder, watching prickly pear, it's a very cyclical plant. It seems to me, and some of you scientists can straighten me out real quick I'm sure, when you get a wet spell, it tends to die. And because of the, I'm going to assume the density of the other plants around it and whatnot, maybe it's better home for your insects, microbiomes, or whatever is aging that pear and dying, most of the time if you're in a continuous grazing program, when that rainy spell is over, then you end up with bare ground around that prickly pear, it comes, rain, prickly pear's roots through there. It's established. It can increase in canopy three times the size in one year. With no competition from grass. When you've got grass competition, as we see here, perennial deep rooted grasses, prickly pear is a shallow rooted plant. The grasses are shallow, or are deeper rooted, dense rooted. I'm really beginning to wonder if we can change some of these things without the use of chemicals. Not that chemicals are bad. Depends on how patient you are. It takes a lot of patience and time. Now, when you come in with a controlled burn over those sickly prickly pear plants, and you can, we've got some areas of not scientific, but I want to say 80, 85% of the pear is gone. After a burn, and those grazing conditions and whatnot. Burning is an excellent tool. My son is a certified burn manager. We do a considerable amount of burning. It is not the answer. You can't burn that much country over time. You just can't. You can say I'm going to get in to where I'm going to burn every 10 years. I haven't figured out how to do it. You've got too many climatic factors, too many years that you can't burn, so it's an excellent tool. You applied in those places that's going to be most effective and you know, we talk about traditional burning and how it used to occur so much. We killed enough of that grass. We don't have the field to conduct a burn a whole lot of the time. Plus in the modern world, there's so many homes, improvements on the place. A million acre fire is just not practical folks, we're not going to get that done. So we've got to take fire and use it when we can. But let's don't say that is the answer to everything. Because it's not. We work with the U.S. Forest Service, or the Texas Forest Service. They're the one that produces video we're fixing to see. Working with people like the Forest Service is something we spent a lot of time with, and have created some pretty good relationships with. Let's see if I can get this little feller to go, over here. If I can shut up for a minute.

>> The reason we cleared those strips is so that we could conduct prescribed burns more effectively, safely, and with fewer personnel. When we cleared those strips, we took the volatile fuels out, including smaller brush plants, like flame leaf sumac, little leaf sumac, agarita, which disturbed some of the wildlife people. But we were looking to get all volatile fuels out of that line so that when we started, initiated our burn, we didn't have a risk of flaring from those bushes, cedar bushes, and such is that, so that we didn't have spot fires. This particular pasture, we did burn. We were able to use a seven man crew. I had two men go west from the northeast corner, with drip torches, and two go south with the fire suppression unit, with both fire crews, and the seventh man was a roamer, he checked back and forth to carry fuel and such as that, and check for spot fires. We initiated that burn at 10:00 in the morning, lighting our black lines. We had a belated line against the fence, and on the inside of that 500 foot path. By 12:30 we had completed those back lines. We had a short, short lunch, and then initiated our head fire, and by 2:00 that day, we were through with that basically 1,000 acre pasture, black lines and head fire. Very effective, very safe, and we were very pleased with what we did. Now, at this point in time, we're looking at wildfire mitigation to give the opportunity if a wildfire is approaching a pasture like this, with the assistance of volunteer fire departments, Texas forest service, without those volatile fuels, you could quickly, even if you didn't have heavy equipment to blade a line, lay a wet line, and burn off of that starting backfires, relatively safely, and maybe stop a wildfire. From the land owner's perspective, if he's in a good grazing management program, and from this video, you can see there's really good grass cover, fine fuel, if you want to call it that. Doing this, he hasn't destroyed the wildlife productivity at all. He has still got heavy brush. The hunter is fine, but in this wide, cleared strip, the deer prefer to graze in those areas. Hunting pressure has to be limited. You can't crowd the deer out, because they will go to the heavy brush. But it's very effective at that perspective, from a ranching perspective, the cattle really like those areas, the grass productivity. It's easier to find them, easier to gather the pasture. So there's a lot of win-win situations here with this type of scenario, and to the point that if you had to say equip dollars available to do brush work, instead of clearing an entire pasture with brush work, take three or four pastures, in fact, we did that on this particular ranch, and clear those 500-foot strips, and thus, we've created some benefits for all those pastures, instead of just clearing one. So there's a tremendous amount of potential here. It is worth considering, and I'm excited that the Texas Forest Service, and the NRCS, see the possibilities in what might could occur here, and you know, you can take that 500 foot line around a small town that had the potential to be trapped in a wildfire, and if you have this cleared strip around it, you could quickly make that town safe, like I say, the potential is really, really exiting in my opinion.

>> It's really fun, the deer hunters, there's 500 foot strips, there's--we cleared them, they take their blinds, and they put them right on the edge of that strip next to the brush line. They drive their vehicle in on the cleared area, and walk across to the blinds, get up in the blind, sun comes up, and they're looking off that end of the brushed area, and whatnot. And they turn around, and they look at your vehicle, and on the other side of that 500 foot line, deer is all over the place, out in that clear strip. Where'd they come from? They were laying out in that cleared area. So it's a pretty neat little wildlife tool, hunting tool, when the hunters understand what's happening. Fence line weeding, it's a part of the process, which I've talked through all of this. Hopefully you've seen that it's not any one thing on the ranching operation that really makes a difference. It's all of these processes put together. Very important. This line weeding, this is a day after they were stripped off from their mothers. We don't have any stress. Very little bawling. You don't have to have a super heavy duty fence. The cow, she's kind of tired of that calf. She's not going to admit it, she wants to know where he is. The calf, he's a big boy, he doesn't need mama anymore, but he darn sure wants to know where she is. Within a weeks' time, we'll be disbursed throughout the pasture, and they're weaned. We've taken weights on the cattle, on two different places, two different years, weigh them the day we weaned them. Ten days later, re-weigh them, one pasture, we got a 1% gain in weight on those calves in 10 days. You're supposed to have a big stress there, where you lose weight. One of those sweet deals, once again. Now, then, this picture. My daddy is in there. There, for the mentors, it's--in fact, the man on the left there, squatted down on his haunches, handsome young man, and he was a young man then, he's the one that helped dig that ditch over in Koch County. But we got a proud history of the ranching industry. It's a testament to the rangeland's sustainability and how fragile it is, and it is fragile folks. We must admit that our forefathers, and ourselves, we've made huge mistakes. With respect to sustainable range lands. Recognizing those mistakes and moving forward with the solutions available to us, and they're there, we've just got to recognize them and move forward with them, it's got much potential for the environment, ranching, wildlife, and the recreation industry. But we've got to go to that next level folks. We've got say what has caused these problems? I've already told Mr. Sayers' story, so I can't talk about that here. It's pretty neat, the picture I'm advertising gators, is what I'm doing [laughs], really it's the custom made top on that gator is what I'm advertising [laughs]. We've got the opportunity to achieve the best of many worlds for sound grazing management. Remember, grazing and recovery from that grazing are key. We've all got to recognize that. The ranchmen, the scientists, everybody. And when we--sometimes I think the scientists need to go to some of those, and there's numerous ranching operations throughout the United States that are very successful in what they're doing. Those scientists need to go visit with those folks, and kind of see why, what's going on? What have we missed in the past? We ain't got a lot of time left in my opinion. In Koch County, talking to our--FSA man there. He'd been there for 15 years, and I asked him one day, in your time here, what percentage of the--what used to be ranching, true ranching operations, are no longer being ranched. They make all them ranches extra small, whatever, and it's not a high population area by any means, but there is a lot of recreational people behind there. He said that in the 15 years he was there, 35 to 40% of the land in Koch County was no longer being ranched. At that rate, folks, we won't have any ranching in 50 years. Profitability is huge. We've been able to show profitability, other ranches are doing the same thing. If that family operation, if those youngsters can say all right, we can--this is a cool deal, we can actually have a lucrative business if we get creative and do some things. Then maybe we've got some potential to move forward.

[ Water Running ]

>> All right the video we are watching now is of that, not the exact same spot, the same creek, when I said we had that 100-year flood, this one is after the second flood. We had two weeks after the first 100-year flood, we had another one. It took that repairing out to the rock. Nature has a way of humbling most all of us. And in fact, if we pay attention if she does, we're going to have to start over rebuilding, we've still got the clear water running, that's cool. But we've, as far as building that repairing area, move back to scratch.

[ Water Running ]

>> All right. What have we accomplished in the last 120 years? As far as the rangeland, studies, ranching industry and all that? You know, the Hernatta [phonetic spelling], in New Mexico, I've never been there. I've talked to a number of people that cut their teeth down there on the Hernatta, large acreage, 100,000 some acres. I don't know, one of the reasons they took it on for USDA experiment station was because there was a man there grazing it, he at the time was running 5,000 head of cattle on there. I think if I get my numbers right, within 15 years, he was running 1,300 head of cattle on it. They fenced off an area of black [inaudible], my understanding, so they could have an area that was under those pristine conditions for Las Cruces, New Mexico. So that they could go back and see what it looked like. Today, that fenced off area looks just like the rest of the country. It's a desert too. My opinion, it's not--there's continual climate change. Always has been, always will be. When we quit having climate change, we'd better have made the right decisions, because we don't want any of us to be here anymore. It's a continual process. But--that fenced off area, without any animal impact, the grasses got old, they got more of them, they die of old age. You can take a grass plant that you can see the center of it is already dead. And it comes to rain, and it will put on a little bit of green out there, but it really doesn't grow. You can do something so simple as taking your hand, your fingers, and pull that dead Marvin grass off of it, then come back and look at it after a rain, and for some reason, I don't understand it, those growth nodes or whatever, they're stimulated. And the next time it rains, it will put on some new growth. You can revive that plant. Now, some of you folks get that figured out, we'll come try it on me. Maybe it will make me young again too [laughs]. But anyway, we've, we made a mess of things. Let's look at it from a different paradigm, and we can make a difference. We really can. Jenny talked about range--Facebook. I've got a little blog site, Rangelands and Ranching, it's exactly the same as Facebook. Some people don't want to mess with Facebook. If they only look at it, that's fine, doesn't matter to me. But anyway, hopefully I haven't too thoroughly confused you, and if there's any questions, I'd be tickled to take them on.

[ Applause ]

>> Thank you Mr. Bentley.

[ Applause ]

>> I'm doing well, how are you?

>> Good. Have you ever done any range surveys with drones before?

>> With what?

>> Drones. Unmanned aerial aircraft? We're talking about--

>> Say that again?

>> Exactly.

>> An unmanned aerial aircraft? No sir, I have not.

>> Unmanned aircraft. Well things have changed a little bit from when you were doing it, now I'm asked every day to go out and look at ranches, and I often don't have the time or the budget to go and survey. My quick way to do it, though, to actually just get an idea is by using these drones. I can now look at the cover that you reference in your papers, I can get an estimate of cover and the stress tolerance of the plants that are on the range already.

>> So then, what do these drones do? Do they help you with any of the management? What exactly do the drones accomplish?

>> I'm able to go out and look at actual--look at the cattle, where they're moving, and how the ground cover is changing through time, by simply just flying it every week.

>> So you're gathering data?

>> Gathering data, and seeing where I can improve the areas on the ranches already.

>> So it's a decision support tool.

>> Yep. It's a tool in my tool box. To answer some of your questions that you were posed, in the 1800s.

>> Right, so it is not a silver bullet?

>> No. It's one more thing in my box that I need to know how to use to use it properly though.

>> Great so in 1898, I'm sure folks thought they had the best and the greatest technology at the time. 2019, do you feel you use it as a crutch?

>> It can definitely be a crutch. We can rely on technology a little too much because boots on the ground is still one of the best tools that we have.

>> I agree, and I think if you can use this great technology, just like my typewriter [laughter] as a decision support tool, to make timely decisions, it's a great, great tool to make us more efficient and to help us make better decisions in a timely manner.

>> I think it's something that we can use, but we have to make sure we understand it before we keep going. Because we're going to keep getting new tools in our tool box, but we need to make sure we use them the right way.

>> I agree, we have to understand what to do with the data and the knowledge we're gathering.

>> Absolutely.

>> How about a round of applause for our actors today?

[ Applause ]

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes, or your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to, and for articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering range line managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Conner's Communications, in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona, and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

[ Music ]

Mentioned Resources

Learn more about Frank Price at

We want your input

Future podcasting funding depends on listener feedback. Please take a minute of your time to respond to this short survey.

Give Feedback

Taking suggestions

Have a question for us to answer on air, or a topic suggestion for a future episode? Email