Cathie Erichsen Arychuk, P.Ag.
Bison Production Specialist
A main principle of range management is best described in cowboy terms - It takes grass to make grass.
Old cowboys often know a lot about range management. They spend their life out on the prairie, caring for cows and watching the grass that feeds them. A cowboy who is observant and cares about what he is doing can’t help but learn something about range management.
Through years of observations, the old timers learned the old adage that “It takes grass to make grass” on the Prairies. They observed that pastures that were used hard produced less over time. Pastures where some grass had been left behind produced better.
We now know many of the scientific reasons behind this old adage. However, these reasons actually boil down to some simple and observable principles.
“It takes grass to make grass.” Litter - the grass that’s left behind, either standing or down on the soil surface - does several things.
- Litter catches snow, increasing soil moisture. We’ve all seen that pastures with more standing plants and taller tufts left behind hold more snow. This snow increases the moisture available to the plants in the spring, increasing pasture production.
- Litter on the soil surface slows evaporation. Soil under plant material stays cooler and wetter than bare soil exposed to the sun. This also increases moisture available to the grass.
- Litter slows the wind speed at the soil surface. This further reduces water evaporation and increases pasture production.
- Litter prevents soil erosion from both wind and water. More topsoil and organic matter is available, providing more nutrients for the grass.
These stockmen knew what they were talking about. If we leave some plants behind, we improve the odds of getting good growth next year. The tricky part is to graze your pastures and manage your livestock while also leaving some grass behind for next year.