Preserving Natural Rangeland
What is it about a natural space that we all want to habitate it, to build there and go through it, to enjoy it each in our own unique way? For some of us it's 'leave no trace,' and for others, long lasting and sometimes permanent damage can occur.
Perhaps this desire to enjoy nature also increases its disappearance at an alarming rate.
Keeping open spaces, and working, striving and encouraging native grasses and plants to the area is a difficult task and one not easily managed.
It involves annually mitigating invasive species, working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to identify and manage ways to encourage native grass growth in a hilly, and limited water situation.
It means keeping in mind choices we make on the ranch, where runoff will go and how it will affect the surrounding area of absorbtion.
Overgrazing could cause poor grass growth and disruption of root bases, while the right amount of grazing encourages healthy grass growth while limiting fire hazards.
In addition, the ranch is home to a multitude of animal species outside those kept here. Coyotes, lions, bears, foxes, deer, and a myriad of bird species pass through or make their home on the ranch. The house attic itself was full of nesting birds when the family first moved in to the vacant and vandalized house! What a surprise that was!
Many of the plants you see today in Tehachapi are invasive species, brought in by the wind or through human means on vehicles and clothing. Each year the land we are custodian of gets a little healthier, a little more back to 'itself'.
We utilize our grazing animals which both fills their bellies and helps to effectively manage invasive species abatement and encourage native grass growth by monitoring the land and rotating pasture space at the right time for the plants.
During our 2-year study of how to raise large hoofstock before we ever brought the first animal in, we learned about the Savory Institute's efforts and teaching while at an International Conference. Their theory being, intense concentrated grazing of animals on a small area and then rotated to the next area was found to be extremely beneficial to the land and grass growth. They had found in their study of Watusi Cattle in Africa that this practice was utilized to great benefit.
Tehachapi is in its own microclimate as far as weather and growing season. Neighbors tells us before we called this area home, there was even snow on the 4th of July! Not what most picture for California weather, especially so close to Los Angeles.
The weather presents many challenges for us here. However, we've selected animals best suited in their species for their hardiness and ability to thrive under changing conditions and the hilly landscape. Neighboring areas outside the ranch were at two points affected by fire, removing old Oaks and changing the way the area holds and moves water and natural resources. By working with neighbors cooperatively, our grazing animals are helping to mitigate fire risks to the neighboring community and encourage the beauty and abundance this area was (and is) known for in a way that benefits everyone.
While it's been an interest in raising animals that prompted the endeavor of learning about holistic management and caring for grasslands, its since carried over into every aspect of the ranch and how we plan for short and long term projects with sustainability at the forefront.
The goats have their favorite plants, and often the llamas will eat what the goats haven't, larger hoofstock eat significantly more and down to the earth at times calling for a faster rotation through areas than the goats and llamas. Pigs would be planned to go through prior to an area being reseeded if that's where plans take the ranch in future. Understanding how each animal species interacts with the land is important to the overall well-being of the ranch and insuring a pastured food supply for the animals and an enriched natural grassland.
We also learned a great deal from the wild horse herd that calls Tehachapi home. Learning more and being involved with their journey has brought a lot of relevance when it comes to the effects of drought, rainfall, and learning the native grasses. There are years when their favorite grazing area is thigh-high, dense in green grass, and years when it's barely above the ankle. For more on their story, click here. Or look for Alex's articles in both the 2018 and 2017 editions of the annual Experience Tehachapi magazine.
Some of the wild herd now call the ranch home and are important parts of the family and ranch operation. These hoofed friends eat a lot and their grazing is an entirely different style than the goats, llamas or other animals. Learning each species grazing practices takes some time. In areas where multi-species will graze through the same pasture either rotated separately through or in tandem with others (i.e., goats and llamas together), an order of grazing may be established based off who will eat which plants or grasses, and rotated after a certain amount of time to prevent overgrazing, as detailed above.
Pasture management for a native rangeland is a lot of work, a LOT of learning, and an endeavor we feel is definitely worth pursuing to create a place in harmony with our ranching efforts and the native flora and fauna who were here long before us.
The reward of holistic management is sustainability. It creates a greater food source, is naturally tolerant to the weather and water conditions for the area, and makes the land itself more valuable as a natural resource with richer earth and water retention, higher grass yield and the nutrient content of native species. Plus, it's pretty cool to restore something to its natural beauty and watch it thrive!
Each year, we get a little closer.