Integrating other enterprises into a ranching operation certainly isn’t a new idea. Many ranches, for instance, have been offering hunting and other recreation-oriented leases for years. However, if you’re going to lease the hunting on your ranch, you’ll need to consider how to fold wildlife habitat needs into your grazing and brush management plans. Ken Cearley, Texas AgriLife Extension Service wildlife expert and a former rancher, led a group wearing both cowboy hats and hunting caps on a ranch tour to show how those two management objectives can be successfully combined.
Dave Anderson (left) manager of the 70,000-acre LX Ranch north of Amarillo, TX, explains the ranch’s philosophy regarding managing for both cattle production and wildlife. The 2011 drought has continued into 2012 and Anderson says that makes managing for any kind of production a real challenge. He’s been on the ranch for 37 years and says he’s never seen it look like it does now.</p>
When evaluating a pasture for its wildlife habitat potential, Texas AgriLife Extension Wildlife Specialist Ken Cearley says to use a 10-point scale. Thinking in terms of quail, he says to assign up to three points for how well nesting cover and loafing cover are interspersed; then up to three points for the amount of plants that provide nesting cover; up to three points for loafing and protective cover; and one point for “would I put my dog down here?”</p>
Just because it’s not on a cow’s Top 10 list of preferred plants doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad plant. For instance, this sand sage provides alternative nesting cover for quail, food for deer, and cows can be trained to eat it as well.</p>
Cattle can be a friend to wildlife, and good range stewardship benefits both domestic and wild animals that make a home on a ranch. High Plains ecosystems have long been home to large ungulates—bison previously and cattle now—and their hoof action and grazing helps stimulate seed germination and plant growth.
It’s 47 ft. from the batter’s box to the pitcher’s mound in softball. And that’s about how far apart you want the protective presence of brush in a pasture to allow quail a place to rest, hide from predators and seek protection from the weather. At that spacing and at 13 ft. in diameter, that much brush cover accounts for about 5% of the space in a pasture says Ken Cearley, Extension Wildlife specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service (left). Since quail are ground-nesting birds, the basketball held by Potter County Extension Agent Brandon Boughen (right) indicates the size of a clump of bunch grass a quail hen needs to hide her eggs.</p>
Brush is an important habitat component for both deer and quail. For quail and other wildlife, it’s loafing cover and protection from predators. So while brush control is an ongoing and necessary part of pasture management, it can be done deliberately and judiciously so that both cattle and wildlife benefit, says Ken Cearley, a former rancher and now wildlife specialist with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.</p>
Many ranches use feeders to supplement the diets of deer and quail. Research indicates that food is seldom a limiting factor in quail populations, but deer feeders can provide supplemental protein and minerals during times of stress. However, feral hogs are an increasing problem and will quickly learn to use wildlife feeders. Fencing feeders with commercial welded-wire hog panels can usually keep the porkers at bay.</p>
Cowboy hats and hunter’s caps came together during the LX Ranch Tour to learn how wildlife and cattle can coexist. The two are very compatible, and as ranches look for more ways to diversify their economic base, the outdoor recreation potential their land affords has become an important part of ranch economics for many landowners.</p>
Understanding the productive potential of a pasture is no different for wildlife than it is for cattle—knowing the various plants that grow there and their potential benefits or drawbacks is important. Ken Cearley, wildlife specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service, explains how sunflowers and Englemann’s daisy fit into the ecological and biological scheme of a pasture.</p>