Thursday, October 21, 2010

Promoting Wildlife in your Cattle Pasture

Mono cultures seem to be the norm; it is thought that without a good stand of Bermuda grass your cattle production will be non-existent. Now don’t get me wrong Bermuda grass with tons of fertilizer and herbicide will produce a great cattle crop. But what about the wildlife? Bermuda grass provides little to no value for most wildlife.

Good diversity of all native grasses, forbs, and browse, is necessary for optimal wildlife habitat (food, cover, and water). This same diversity provides valuable nutrition for cattle. Cattle use will the same forbs, grasses, and browse to fulfill their dietary needs.

Now I’m not saying to completely destroy your cattle pasture and start over. That would be very costly and requires a lot of time. Providing wildlife with succificent habitat is easy and requires little labor. I will discuss several ways to promote diversity on your place.

Do not clean your fence-row. That might sound crazy but woody fence rows provide great corridors for wildlife to travel with protection and are great food sources. To promote diversity here avoid applying herbicides when spraying your pasture, you can also plant small shrubs and vines to create a wind block for both the cattle and the wildlife during the freezing winter months. Another way to boost diversity along the fence row is to light disk a small strip next to the fence you will be surprised how many native forbs will appear. When creating a diverse corridor like this it is easy to cover a lot of area. Let say you create a 10ft wide strip along your fence and you make it a mile long. That’s sounds like a lot of land to be taking away from your cattle but really it’s only a little over 1 acre and provides a great deal of protection and forage for wildlife.

Another place in your pasture to create wildlife habitat is your pond. One easy way is to create a vegetative buffer around your pond by fencing off the area surrounding the pond. Of course leaving an area for your cattle to access the pond. A vegetation buffer will provide cover and nesting areas for wildlife. Along with the wildlife benefits a buffer prevents erosion and filters the water before it enters the pond. This keeps your pond clean, increases its attractiveness, and will help the pond maintain its depth instead of filling up with sediment. It is suggested that the buffer should be 50ft but do only what your piece of land permits. Remember the more ideal habitat the more wildlife.

You can also extend your pond out to create a shallow area to promote vegetation growth. The slope of the extended area should be around 100:1. By doing this it will create a wetland. Wetland have tons of benefits to wildlife and your land, I will just touch on a few here. The wetland creates a unique habitat for many types of wildlife including waterfowl, frogs, songbirds, butterflies, and many others. Waterfowl rely on many wetland obligate plants including pink smart weed, pondweed, millet, duck weed, and many others. There are even wetland food plot mixes to increase the number of waterfowl your wetland attracts. Wetlands also serve as nature’s kidney and will filter out chemicals from cattle waste to fertilizer before it enters your pond, if set up properly.

Do not overstock your pasture. Besides potentially degrading wildlife habitat, your cattle weight gains will decrease.  Know your pastures carrying capacity and stick to it or below it. Or your pasture may look like this!


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pink Smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum)

Texas Ranch Management would like to point out another important plant. The plant Pink smartweed is very common in central and eastern Texas. Often, they are found growing in wetland habitats. Most of the time, it will grow in shallow standing water. Flowers can range in color from a white to light pink and are located at the end of each stem. Leaves are lance shaped, alternate, and can be up to 4 inches in length.

Pink smartweed has great wildlife value. Seeds are a favorite of ducks, song birds, and some small mammals. When the plant becomes submerged for an extended period of time, its stems become habitat micro and macro invertebrates – important food for fish and other wildlife species.

USDA Plants Profile for Polygonum pensylvanicum

Croton spp.

Texas Ranch Management would like to point out an important plant most likely growing in your pasture. Now that dove season is in full swing there is a genus of plants that you should be keeping your eye open for and that is croton. If you find a patch of croton you’re bound to find a flock of doves and many other seed eating birds.  There are roughly twenty different species of croton in Texas.  There is even a town in Texas called Croton.  Below is a list of 3 species of croton that are commonly found in Texas.

Woolly Croton (Croton capitatus Michx.)

Ted Bodner @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Jeff McMillian @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
       Woolly croton can grow 1 to 3 foot tall. The leaves and stem have star-shaped hairs that give it a soft texture. The leaves are entire and have no lobes. The leaf placement is alternate and has an aromatic smell when crushed.

The seeds of the woolly croton have a great wildlife value. Dove, quail, Rio Grande turkeys, and many other seed-eating birds seek out the seeds after they mature. Most of the time the plant is treated as a weed due to the fact that it has no to little value to livestock.

These plants can normally be located where recent soil disturbance has occurred or where overgrazing is present

Texas Croton (Croton texensis (Klotzch) Muell. Arg).
USDA-NRCS Plants Database
        Texas croton also has that unique aromatic smell when the leaves are crushed. It can be a little larger than the woolly croton varying from 1– 4 feet tall. The leaves tend to be a dark green on the bottom and a light green/gray on the top. The leaves also are entire and have no lobes. The fruit on Texas croton is divided into three sections each holding a seed. 

Texas croton also produces a seed crop that is very valuable to dove, quail and other seed-eating birds but like the woolly croton has little value for grazing livestock.

These will be found in the same areas as woolly croton, where recent soil disturbances have occurred. 

One-seeded Croton (Croton monanthogynus Michx.)
Melody Lytle, Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center
One-seed croton or prairie-tea is smaller than both the other types of croton, it’s height ranges from several inches to 18 inches tall. The stems of the one-seeded croton usually have a peach-pink-orange color. The plant has many wide branches unlike the other two species of croton. This plant gets its name from having only one seed instead of three like most members of the croton family.

Along with most croton species, the one-seeded croton also produces a seed crop that is very valuable to dove, quail and other seed-eating birds but again has little value for grazing livestock.

More information on these plants and other plants found in Texas can be found at