Grass farming for the future

Two men observing a range

For this Kansas rancher, good stewardship has reliably maintained his strongest asset — his grazing land. Learn how Hurd Ranch Co. combines stocking rates with timely weed control.

In southeastern Kansas, settled in the heart of the Flint Hills, Eugene Garcia manages roughly 5,000 feeder steers. Native bluestem provides the reliable grazing that Garcia’s family-run operation, Hurd Ranch Co., requires. And like an old family recipe, the importance of good stewardship and grass farming has been passed down generation to generation.

“We see ourselves as stewards of this country,” fourth-generation rancher Garcia says. “Part of what we believe from a pasture management standpoint, our asset is this land, not necessarily cattle. It’s what we’re here to caretake.”

For Hurd Ranch Co., pasture management starts with a sound grazing plan. Garcia typically allows 4 to 4 ¼ acres per head. It’s a stocking rate — even in a dry year — that he says goes easy on the land and helps extend his grazing season through the late fall and winter months. He rarely needs to feed hay, Garcia adds.

“Our experience is, since we’re here to manage the land and grass, if you over graze one year, you just won’t get the production the next year, even if you have good rain,” Garcia says.

Good stewardship is reliable, he explains. “Even during drought years, like 2011, our grass was strong. Because of our pasture management, we still had grass to graze, with enough left to fuel a spring-prescribed burn. Pastures came back so we could stock as normal during 2012,” Garcia says.

Good Grass Begets Good Grass

Maintaining healthy grass stands through conservative stocking rates cost-effectively feeds Garcia’s cattle. Good grass also provides his first line of defense against weeds and brush. But that alone sometimes isn’t enough to keep the more aggressive species out of Garcia’s pastures. Stocking rates combined with timely weed control has become his “old family recipe” for good forage production.

Armed with an understanding about the importance of weed and brush control, Garcia began developing a treatment regime with help from Troy Richardson, a retailer with Sowder Seed Co, in Toronto, Kansas.

“I work with Eugene and his ranch management team constantly to make sure we stay ahead of weeds and brush,” Richardson says.

When Garcia began finding sericea lespedeza and hedge (Osage orange, bois d’arc) in his pastures, he knew he had to do something. Richardson recommended Remedy® Ultra herbicide to take out the tough weeds and brush.

 “I like using Remedy Ultra. It helps preserve nutrients and moisture for the grass,” Garcia says. “It kills the problem brush and manages weeds.”

A particularly aggressive species, sericea lespedeza can out compete even long-established native species, eventually crowding out desirable forage and reduce grazing. For Garcia, keeping a close eye on encroaching weeds and brush and responding quickly is critical. Generally, he treats pastures with a known infestation every three to four years. That keeps sericea lespedeza from establishing and volunteer hedge saplings from maturing into larger, more-expensive headaches.

“Our goal is a preventive program,” Garcia says. “If you don’t stay ahead of invasive weeds, they come back. This is part of our management program we see as critical.

 

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