Located in the Nutrioso Valley of the White Mountains in eastern Arizona, the EC Bar Ranch consists of 400 acres, including 150 acres of fenced riparian pasturelands along 3 miles of Nutrioso Creek. To maintain improvements on our ranch, we needed a sustainable dormant-season grazing-management project. The results of the project point out a need to balance stream-channel area with forage availability on terraces within the riparian pastures. Practices to control brush on terraces, over-seed with native grasses, expand the size of riparian pastures and use groundwater through sprinkler irrigation have resulted in a potentially sustainable livestock-grazing program. Baseline data have been collected to help monitor future vegetative changes to help reduce erosion from streambanks, terraces and livestock activities that could negatively impact water quality, habitat and operating economics on the ranch.
Our primary objective is to demonstrate how dormant season grazing in a riparian pasture can become a sustainable agricultural practice with increased forage production leading to improved ranching economics without sacrificing water quality or wetland habitat. “Sustainable grazing” is defined as profitable livestock activities that do not increase erosion from upland terraces or streambanks into the channel, reduce riparian vegetation needed to reduce turbidity and improve water quality and/or impair wildlife habit or fish populations.
STRATEGIES TO MEET OBJECTIVES
In September 2003, rabbitbrush in riparian pastures was controlled by mowing and overseeding terraces with native grass. In August 2004, predictions that long-term drought conditions would continue to reduce forage production necessitated the relocation of riparian fencing to enlarge riparian pastures. In September 2003 and 2004, the Step-Point method of monitoring transects on floodplains and terraces was performed. In October-November 2004, livestock activity was observed.
As a result of the project, the following management actions were adopted:
1) riparian-area grazing with only limited numbers of livestock moved frequently after short periods of grazing
2) maintain stubble height of grass between banks in the stream channel at 6 inches or higher and stubble height for blue gramma grasses on upper terraces at 2 inches or higher
3) livestock will not be allowed in a riparian pasture unless the grass growing in the channel and on banks met stubble height criteria
4) expand the size of riparian pastures to equal 1 acre of channel to 4 acres of upland terraces (2 acres on each side of the channel whenever possible)
5) sprinkle irrigate vegetation with groundwater in the stream channel, streambanks and riparian pasture terraces
6) limit grazing periods based on channel types
7) muskthistle, bull thistle and Russian olive must be controlled to prevent a reduction in forage production by these invasive species
8) monitor riparian pasture vegetation changes and livestock activities
BENEFITS ON AGRICULTURE
Farm production benefits: controlling brush, overseeding with native grasses, expanding riparian pasture areas and sprinkle irrigation will increase forage production if livestock are excluded from riparian pastures during the growing season.
Soil- and water-quality improvement benefits: for producers with water-quality and/or wildlife concerns, sustainable riparian pasture grazing practices represent the best long-term management option.
PRODUCER ADOPTION OF PROJECT RESULTS
I recommend producers, especially those in drought-affected areas, adopt sustainable dormant-season riparian pasture grazing programs using strategies resulting from this project to help reduce winter feeding costs, improve water quality and wildlife habitat and increase ranching economics.
Livestock producers should review publications addressing grazing practices on rangelands and riparian areas. SARE project SW01-044 titled, “Riparian Friendly Grazing Project” (2002), produced an excellent report discussing monitoring methods, practices and case studies on California rangelands where riparian areas were grazed. Our project points out that when livestock are confined in riparian areas, even the best combination of rest, timing, intensity and duration may not be sustainable without improvements to forage production on terraces and/or sufficiently large riparian pasture sizes. Therefore, producers should carefully consider the area to be fenced with expected forage production. If possible, buffer-strip fencing should be installed outside riparian fencing. Forage production can be increased by brush control practices, overseeding, sprinkler irrigation and invasive species control. Under drought conditions, all these options will be needed to maintain a long-term sustainable dormant-season riparian grazing management plan.
The ECBarRanch.com website provides information to all interested persons about the project, including photos, monitoring data and a copy of the final report. From the homepage, choose Agency Partnerships, then the SARE Project. Since May 2003, several group tours have visited the project site and discussed project results. The project will have an on-going exposure to future groups touring conservation projects on the ranch.