Addressing Cedar Infestations - Using Animal Impact to Increase Forage Production and Improve Soil Health

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $14,987.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Peggy Cole Jones
Holistic Resource Management of Texas, Inc


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops
  • Additional Plants: native plants, trees
  • Animals: sheep


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, preventive practices, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
  • Crop Production: continuous cropping
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: field monitoring/scouting
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    Throughout the U.S.,noxious or “problem” plant species are affecting thousands of acres of productive agricultural land. In Texas, one of the key species affecting ranchers, is cedar (redberry and liveberry juniper). Ranchers then have increased expenses trying to eradicate cedar through burning, bulldozing, and/or herbicides. These treatments not only decrease profits, they lead to compromised soil health, reduced retention of soil water and decreased biodiversity. Ranchers consider cedar, like other “problem” plants, to be in competition with more desirable forage species. Thus, many focus on removing the problem plants rather than improving soil health. This project will focus on improving soil health, increasing the bulk of desirable forage species, and reducing the establishment of new cedar trees. It will not involve removing existing cedars. On the West Ranch (Ozona, Texas), the research team will select a test area on which we will demonstrate improved soil health, increased forage production, and possibly a reduction in the establishment of new cedars, when compared to an adjacent control area on the ranch. The staff will subdivide a test area of 1200 acres into one 200-acre “paddock” and ten 100-acre “paddocks” to increase the density at which they run their herd of cattle and hair sheep, and reduce the amount of time the animals spend on any square yard of land. In the adjacent control area (a 200-acre pasture where cattle and sheep will be run on continuous graze) the animals will be at a much lower density and remain there year round. Managing animal density is extremely important because 100 animals on 50 acres for 3.65 days creates an entirely different effect on the land than 1 animal on 50 acres for 365 days. In the test area, the staff plan to ensure that forage species are not overgrazed by giving them adequate recovery times between grazings. If growth is fast, then the animals won’t return to a paddock earlier than about 90 days. If growth is slow then they won’t return earlier than 120-180 days. The project’s research team believes that the effect of the higher density, or increased “animal impact” in the test area, combined with the recovery time in between grazings, will lead to increased forage production (animal hooves break up the capped soil surface so air and water can better penetrate, creating conditions for more plants to germinate and establish), and thus more soil cover (due to greater plant density and to trampling down of old plant parts to provide litter). By keeping more of the soil surface covered, a better microenvironment for soil organisms will be created and the research team would expect to see an increase in their numbers and perhaps species, and water losses due to evaporation and runoff would be reduced leading the research team to expect to see a greater depth in water penetration, and fewer signs of erosion. Given adequate recovery times between grazings, we would expect more vigorous, soil binding, perennial grass root systems.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.