The dependence of ranching on water makes drought a severe hardship for livestock operations and ranchers in California. Climate change models predict greater variability in temperature and precipitation, and therefore forage and water availability. Managing rangelands for water scarcity and greater resilience becomes essential to ensure the viability of California’s ranching sector.
In view of this, on Oct.30th CalCAN organized a field day at Paicines Ranch, south of Hollister, that was attended by 60 ranchers, farm advisors, land trust and open space organizations, and researchers.
The field day started with presentations by Dr. Ken Tate and Dr. Valerie Eviner from the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. Considering that changes in annual precipitation and forage production in recent years have brought uncertainties to farm and ranch business, they discussed possible short- and long-term drought recovery strategies, considerations involved in fall versus spring calving and the use of carefully managed high production fields to buffer against lean years. Valerie also described a new project to develop a site-specific decision-making tool that will be developed with input from ranchers as well as scientific data.
Sheila Berry from the UC Cooperative Extension Alameda County talked about the need for good water quality to ensure adequate grazing time and livestock weight gain, as well as feed supplementation. Athena Pratt from Hollister’s NRDC office summarized the rangeland management practices that NRCS supports with its cost-share and grant programs such as fencing, water supplies and monitoring animal nutrition.
An afternoon tour of the 7,000 acre ranch was led by ranch manager Chris Ketcham and owner Sallie Calhoun. Using the tools of holistic management and rotational grazing, Paicines Ranch monitors its water resources strategically and strives to create as much healthy, diverse wetland habitats as possible, thus building an ecologically sustainable landscape where cattle and wildlife co-exist. Peter Donovan from the Soil Carbon Challenge described his efforts to measure soil carbon content on ranches across the country, including at Paicines Ranch, and encourage efforts to increase soil carbon sequestration.
“If you get up and tell your wife I’m going to look at the cattle, you are wrong. Grass is the priority. The grass is more important than the cattle,” one of the participants commented during the tour. “Soil micronutrients is the mother of all,” another responded.
The CalCAN Ranch Field Day was co-sponsored by San Benito Resource Conservation District, Community Foundation for San Benito County, California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, and Central Coast Rangeland Coalition.
“I liked the mix of research information and upcoming resource tools, along with practical range management practices, and hands-on look at what Paicines Ranch is doing on the land.”— Field day participant Sally Negroni, NRCS Soil Conservationist