Stewardship, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” For this article, I want to focus more specifically on land stewardship.
According to 2013 Denton Central Appraisal District totals, there were 13,313 1-D-1 agricultural use evaluations comprising 329,638 acres. Considering that Denton County’s total land area is 613,120 acres, that’s more than half. This emphasis of vast acreage is necessary so I can express the size and scope of agriculture in Denton County. I want to encourage the majority landowners to pass the land on to the next generation in better shape than it was received.
My responsibility as county Extension agent is to provide county residents and landowners with unbiased, research-based information so the landowner can make a more informed decision when it comes to land and livestock management. I have dozens of research publications and hundreds of Extension specialists at my disposal to help you become a better land steward.
My hope is that I can educate and inform to a degree that I begin to effect change and that landowners take on more responsibility and transform from land and livestock owners to land and livestock stewards.
Every situation in land stewardship is different, and each may call for a different prescription of management techniques. When it comes to livestock capacity or stocking rates, dealing in averages is not the most responsible way. I have observed that the majority of acreages between 1 and 30 acres containing livestock in Denton County are continuously overstocked, which does not lend itself to stewardship. I will admit that I come from a production point of view, and a lot of people I visit with are not producers — they have big pets.
Whether you have livestock or big pets, you cannot discount the effect that animals have on land. By simply being there, animals can help or harm forage production, depending on how heavily stocked the acreage is. Animals can help suppress weed growth, but they can also be the cause of soil compaction, which limits the production of forage. Neglecting fertilization and chemical and mechanical weed control is not advisable in any situation.
The type of forage you have on your pasture must also be taken into consideration. Improved grasses such as Bermuda grass varieties can be grazed lower to the ground more often and still come back. However, I still recommend that the forage be no shorter than 4 inches; if it is shorter than 4 inches, animals need to be removed.
Native grass forages consist more of clump grasses, which grow differently than Bermuda grass and should not be grazed lower than 6 to 8 inches tall to ensure the plant remains productive.
Maintaining adequate forage cover is also necessary in reducing runoff and ensuring effective use of the moisture we receive. Being in a drought is not the worst thing happening to the land presently. Managing land in a manner that ensures the majority of moisture falling on a property quickly drains to the nearest creek or watershed not only decreases productivity but increases silting in of ponds, streams and lakes. It also carries what is on the land (i.e., manure) to that water source, which can cause an increase in nitrates, phosphorus and algal bloom.
The recommendations given here are best-case scenarios and may not be feasible for your specific operation or goals. I encourage you to seek factual information that will aid you in transitioning from land and livestock owner to land and livestock steward. Site visit consultations can be scheduled by calling 940-349-2889.
BRANDON BOUGHEN is the agriculture and natural resources county extension agent with Texas AgriLife Extension. He can be reached at 940-349-2894 or firstname.lastname@example.org.