When it comes to ranch land management the term “ongoing project” is often an understatement. For those who enjoy the diversity of tasks that comes with ranch ownership, the winter months are often the best time to get a jump on things. At the forefront, is proper land management, as it is the land that feeds livestock and wildlife, filters water, sustains plant and animal diversity, and provides habitat. It is essentially the foundation for a ranch’s success.

Since ranch properties in Texas are seldom covered in snow during the winter it is a great opportunity to get ahead of the game in regards to those ranch management endeavors. Dr. Megan Clayton, from the Texas A&M Extension, has a list of winter ranchland projects to maintain your property.

Brush Management – There are two individual plant treatment methods that can be done when the weather is not sweltering: 1) cut stump treatment and 2) stem spray method. Both of these methods involve a mixture of triclopyr and diesel applied to either the freshly cut stump or stem of brush species.

Fecal and Forage Sampling – Send off a fecal sample of your cattle herd to monitor diet quality and see if you need to adjust your supplemental feeding program (cnrit.tamu.edu/ganlab). Alternatively, if purchasing hay, conduct a forage analysis (soiltesting.tamu.edu).

Measure Your Forage – Measure your forage available for livestock3.  Both pre-winter and post-winter assessments of your vegetation can help you determine the number of livestock you can feed.  For example, checking your forage at the beginning of the winter will indicate the amount of grass you have for the winter and determine if adjustments in your stocking rate need to be made OR if you can expect to need hay.

Identify Problem Weeds Early – Identify areas where you experienced weed issues this year and/or where there is bare ground or you fed hay. Learn to identify the problem plant in its early stages of growth so treatment can be done early in the season, when the control will be higher and require less chemical. Check out essmextension.tamu.edu/plants to get started.

Plan Future Management – Be sure to evaluate the pastures you intend to burn, especially if you plan to conduct a prescribed burn in late-winter4. Do you have enough fuel to create the kind of fire you want this year? This is also a good time to plan any chemical treatments you would like to do in the spring/summer or manage livestock pasture rotations to benefit wildlife habitat5.

Install Fire Breaks – Winter is an excellent time to maintain or install fire breaks for prescribed burning4. Fire breaks can also be used to protect pastures, barns, and equipment from wildfires that may spread quickly during dry seasons. Learn how to protect your land and property at http://texaseden.org/disaster-resources/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/protection-of-rangeland-and-pastures-from-wildfire.pdf.

Mend or Plan Fencing – Do you have forage in pastures that has not been utilized well? Use this cooler time to mend or plan fencing to maximize rotational grazing opportunities in the spring.

Calibrate Sprayers – Save both time and money by accurately calibrating your spray equipment. Be ready for   next spring by visiting http://southtexasrangelands.tamu.edu/useful-publications/ and click on ‘Sprayer Calibration Guide’ to download instructions.

Watch for Winter Plant Toxicities – We are used to hearing about plant toxicities, such as nitrate accumulation, in some plant species after fertilization or drought, but did you know these plants can also build up cyanide after the first frost? Be careful not to turn hungry cattle into a pasture with johnsongrass (or other sorghums) during this frost condition due to the potential of toxic build up in the plant (http://essmextension.tamu.edu/plants/plant/johnsongrass/).

Implementing these winter ranch land management practices will go a long way to keeping your property healthy and keeping your investment secure.