Cattle Ranching in the “Wild Horse Desert” – Stocking Rate, Rainfall, and Forage Responses

Author(s): Andrea Montalvo, Todd Snelgrove, Gilly Riojas, Landon Schofield, and Tyler A. Campbell
Published: March 2020

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Cattle ranching is a tough business. This is no truer than in the “Wild Horse Desert” of deep South Texas where frequent and reoccurring drought paired with an extended growing season of 306 frost-free days are the dominant climatic features. Drought is not a new phenomenon in this region. In 1916 Caesar Kleberg of the famed King Ranch noted, “I am up against the hardest fight I’ve ever had – the extreme drought is keeping me going from morn until night.” To be sustainable, cattle ranchers need to balance stocking rate with available forage (or standing crop) while considering uncertainty in future precipitation and markets.

Additionally, ranchers must select a grazing method that accomplishes their overall objectives. In South Texas, grazing methods have historically involved continuous grazing and to a lesser extent some variation of deferred rotation grazing. However, the literature is unclear as to which of these methods is superior for vegetation and animal production. Complicating matters, no research involving the comparative evaluation of grazing methods have been performed in South Texas at an operational scale.

Herein, we report initial (March 2014–June 2018) findings from a large-scale demonstration project involving two cattle stocking rates and two grazing methods. Our focus here was on forage standing crop and forage utilization responses; however, we are also monitoring herd performance, vegetation composition and structure, and wildlife responses over the long term (>10 years).

Suggested Citation

Montalvo, A., T. Snelgrove, G. Riojas, L. Schofield, and T.A. Campbell. 2020. Cattle ranching in the “Wild Horse Desert” – Stocking rate, rainfall, and forage responses. Rangelands 42(2): 31-42.