Most Arizona ranches cover many, many acres because of our environment here in the southwest. Our climate is arid, meaning relatively dry, so grass and forages, along with plentiful water, is challenging to maintain at times. However, this does not mean high-quality cattle can’t be raised here! By managing the land, we can ensure there are enough resources for the cattle, the wildlife, and the public who also enjoy these open spaces.
Range management is a science which focuses on the study of rangelands and the conservation and sustainable management of these arid spaces for the benefit of current and future generations. It is the goal of the caretakers of these lands to use the resources provided, such as water, grass, and forages, to grow a high-quality product such as beef, while also maintaining a healthy ecosystem in which wildlife, flora and fauna can flourish. Proper management is key as these lands have previously been used for many generations to grow food and it is the goal of the ranchers to see their continued responsible use into the future.
Andrew McGibbon of the Santa Rita Ranch in Green Valley, Arizona (check out the blog we wrote about his family here) explains that on his ranch they work to adapt the cattle to the environment and to rainfall amounts. One method of adaptation that is used on his ranch is called rotational grazing which means cattle are consistently moved through various pastures. In the summertime, the cattle are moved through pastures rather quickly, meaning the herd is gathered and moved to a new pasture every 10-12 days. This is done during the monsoon months of July, August and September, to protect the quickly growing grass. In the wintertime, grasses typically go dormant, which means the cattle can spend a longer amount of time in each pasture. Movement through pastures is also dependent on the amount of rainfall in that area of the ranch.
As with most businesses, things are always done a little differently from ranch to ranch. Dan Bell of the ZZ Cattle Company in Nogales, Arizona (to learn more about Dan and his ranch visit this blog post) explains that range management is used across their entire ranch to ensure that cattle have fresh grass throughout the year. This allows the pastures to rest after cattle have grazed. Pastures are rested on an alternating season of use pattern. This gives the grass more time to rest and set seed, allowing for growth in the next cycle. This is especially helpful through times of drought, ensuring there is grass waiting in other areas, allowing for efficient management and use of the resource.
Range management is also important for the wildlife who cohabitate with cattle on these pasture lands. Ranchers are acutely aware of water sources and how they are used. A large pasture can be grazed more efficiently and effectively by providing water in various areas, encouraging cattle movement and equitable grazing. This allows cattle and wildlife to graze in more remote areas which were not close to a water source before but now are by adding a trough for water and a pipeline to get the water there.
It’s also important to monitor and work to improve the rangeland used by ranchers. This is done by a practice called rangeland monitoring which means we document and measure how conditions of the land are changing in response to the environment and the management practices which are in use. It helps guide ranchers to know if their current range management plan is working and how to adapt to changing circumstances such as drought. Add this tool to the rancher’s toolbox to ensure they reach their goal of seeing the land they currently raise cattle on continue to happen to see the same for generations to come.
Special thanks to the McGibbons, Dan Bell, and Mario Preciado of the Arizona State Land Department for assistance with this blog post.