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JA Ranch hosts Grazing Workshop

By Shannon Rowley, NRCS Soil Conservationist, Amarillo and Ashley Abreu, NRCS Soil Conservationist Amarillo

The golden caprock bluffs in the eastern end of Palo Canyon provide some of Texas’ most vivid scenery. This area is also the home of the JA Ranch, the oldest privately owned ranch in the Texas Panhandle. Established in 1876, the ranch boundary spans across Armstrong, Briscoe and Donley Counties.

Conservation of the natural resources on the ranch is a primary goal of the ranch owners. They have worked closely with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for many years implementing conservation practices as part of their overall management plan.

Through their participation in the NRCS’ Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP),the ranch recently hosted a one-day range management workshop to showcase their brush control results and grazing management successes.

A pre-tour kicked off the event to show various types of Mesquite control (Chemical vs. Aerial spraying) and the benefits of prescribed fire.

Fifth generation rancher Andrew Bivins gave a brief history of the ranch and discussed the various management systems they’ve used on their land in past years.   Alvin Lynn, a historian, followed with information about the Red River Wars and the affects it had on the ranch.

Clint Rollins, NRCS rangeland management specialist and coordinator for the High Plains Grazing Lands Coalition (GLC) provided an overview of how NRCS and GLC has assisted the ranch in helping them to reach their conservation goals.  He said the first step he pursued in this process was evaluating the ecological site descriptions and creating a non-grazeable acre map.  State of art mapping tools were used such as ArcMap and ground proof data collection.  According to Rollins, the technology saves time and allows them to move on to  developing  detailed resource inventories, conducting forage inventories, completing a grazing plan and finalizing the mapping for the ranch.

Former Rangeland Management Specialist J.R. Bell, retired from the NRCS, emphasized the importance of understanding ecological site descriptions and what it means for your land and the operation.

Alex Pehl, NRCS soil conservationist in Canyon, continued the program discussing opportunities through NRCS’ technical and financial assistance.  His presentation focused primarily on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and some of the practices producers can apply for such as brush management, fencing, livestock water wells, watering facilities, solar and submersible pumping plants, and prescribed grazing.  Pehl also explained the eligibility requirements for the programs, ranking, and funding processes for applications. NRCS can also help develop a long-term conservation plan to help with a continuation of management and planning.

Dale Smith, a range management team member of the JA Ranch, turned everyone’s attention to wildfire preparedness and pre-planning. He said with the help from the Forest Service, the JA ranch is working on creating a website interface that will aid first responders to locate key sites such as gate locations, headquarters, water troughs, and potential roads that they would not have known existed, and this will also help them cut less fences if they can see if there happens to be a nearby gate in case of a wildfire.

The workshop was held in a barn near the ranch headquarters where more than 90 people attended the event.  Students from Texas Tech University and Clarendon College, fellow ranchers and managers, and employees from NRCS, Pantex, and Agrilife Extension all came to hear about the progress the ranch has made through their participation in the programs and through the technical assistance they have requested throughout the years. Lunch was graciously provided by the ranch.  During the meal, ranch managers Andrew Bivins, Dale Smith and Jay O’Brien summarized the practices they have applied through brush management for grubbing primarily Cholla, aerial treatment of  Mesquite, and the success they’ve had using prescribed fire.

As part of the workshop, NRCS and GLC conducted a plant ID contest of live plants on the ranch. The contest was separated by students, producers and professionals. Each group was tested on the same 25 species of grasses, forbs and woody plants. It was a perfect fall day to attend the field day on the JA Ranch, where an individual could walk away with a greater understanding and appreciation of the history of the ranch, and how they are trying to preserve all of the natural resources for future generations.