Sustainable Arid Land Grazing Systems: Training for Managers of Public Land and Reserves

1996 Annual Report for EW96-010

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1996: $29,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Matching Federal Funds: $38,000.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $38,000.00
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
William Olkowski
Bio-Integral Resource Center (South)

Sustainable Arid Land Grazing Systems: Training for Managers of Public Land and Reserves



To train participating Extension and natural resource management personnel to be more effective in working cooperatively with range managers and range least-holders to implement sustainable grazing policies and practices on Western region range lands.


The overall goal of this educational project is to promote the adoption of sustainable grazing policies and practices on privately-owned ranch lands, public lands and natural reserves hosting grazing enterprises. The education/demonstration site is a field station of the non-profit membership institution, the Bio Integral Resource Center (BIRC). This 60 acre farm integrates dryland grazing of natural colored merino handspinning-wool sheep guarded by donkeys, cashmere goats, laying chickens, weeding geese, agroforestry plantings, a rainwater-capture and water conservation system, and a small certified organic vegetable production system, managed as part of the education of nearby community high school students.

Grazing related projects on the farm during the last year included the following: evaluating four commercially available portable electric fence systems, two types of permanent fencing systems and two types of chargers used to control dryland grazing sheep and goats; devising and using a simple computerized record keeping system for numbers of animals grazed per unit of time per site; investigating grazing/physical control weed management strategies for starthistle, turkey mullein, goatgrass and foxtail grasses, cocklebur, and horehound (the latter four all producing seeds damaging to the fleeces); and producing, revising, and distributing educational materials on these sustainable grazing and other farming techniques.

An investigation was initiated to learn what this project could contribute not duplicative of the many classes and practical educational materials on controlled grazing (management-intensive) now abundantly available through Cooperative Extension and University personnel. Discussions were held with Cooperative Extension agents and University and public agency range ecologists and range managers including representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, BLM, East Bay Regional Parks and others. A library was assembled of manuals, syllabi, hand-outs, and layman-oriented how-to magazine and newsletter articles. Computerized searches and a database were started on the related scientific literature, which is extensive.

Some key issues that emerged from discussions with professionals were: pressures from anti-grazing (or anti-animal agriculture) public, needs for better fuel assessment in grazing for fire control, and for research on the effects of grazing on plant diversity, conservation of native vegetation, and water quality (including the problem of Cryptosporidium contamination). Based on these concerns, a by-invitation planning workshop is scheduled for spring 1998 with range management professionals who provide classes or supervision of controlled (management-intensive) grazing activities on public and private lands. A final workshop will be held in the second week of June which will include results of the yellow starthistle/subclover trials, most visible at that time.

Public education on the critical role played by grazing animals in maintaining grassland diversity may be an important contribution to the further adoption of sustainable grazing. More than 275 adults, (a mix of professionals and general public) 90 college students and 600 school age children (in 21 public school tours) came to learn about sustainable grazing and integrated farm systems at the ranch site in 1997. Tours last from two to four hours and include a short lecture, discussions, and handout materials on all aspects of the farm operation. Two video segments showing sustainable grazing, starthistle suppression and other techniques on the Field Station were filmed by KVIE, Sacramento and broadcast to California valley cities on the prime time program “California Heartland.”

In the initial development of this system we had help from Dave Pratt, Extension Advisor for Yolo and Solano Counties. Pratt helped us extablish a “kiwi” fencing system which is the most effective of the electric systems we tested. The sheep graze on pastures of annual grasses and yellow starthistle, green from January to June, then dry until the rains in December. We have assisted Craig Thomsen of the Department of Agronomy and Range Science, University of California at Davis (UCD), on the starthistle/mowing/subclover trials. Grazing animals are closely integrated into the other systems on the farm.

The principle noxious weed at the Field Station is yellow starthistle. We have continued to collaborate with Craig Thomsen in his studies on using sheep, sub-clovers, and mowing to suppress starthistle.

However, increasingly we have felt the starthistle on the Field Station offers a benefit to the sheep and this has left us ambivalent about its control. During the summer and fall the dry seedheads are relished by sheep and provide nutrition when little else is left on the pastures. It does not appear to harm the donkeys. We contacted veterinarians at UCD Veterinary School, Texas A&M, and the American Donkey and Mule Society, and have not been able to find anyone who knows of a case of donkey pathology where starthistle was implicated.

We have increasingly focused on weeds with seedheads that become a problem because they embed themselves in the wool. These are horehound, Marrubium sp., cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium, and various dried grass heads (primarily foxtail barley, Hordeum sp., barb goatgrass, Aegilops sp.). Cocklebur is primarily a problem around the pond and each year’s sprouts can be eliminated with a weed whip. Horehound can be hand pulled except when it is entwined in fences. The grasses with problem seedheads are bag-mowed when heads dry and before they fall. The seeds are fed to the chickens. A foxtail-suppression experiment, in which a small pasture was over-seeded with lana vetch and oats, was successful in suppressing the foxtail, but not deemed practical for other areas because of the irrigation necessary to start germination in the fall. Lana vetch has been seeded in the pastures and now self propagates.

This summary was prepared by the project coordinator for the 1999 reporting cycle.


William Olkowski
Bio-Integral Resource Center (South)
615 Anacapa St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Office Phone: 8059658869