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Resilience Rodeo - Brad Magness Sr. - The Importance of Diversity in Pastures

This week on the “Resilience Rodeo”, Brad Magness Sr. tells us about the importance of diversity in his pastures, and not just diverse grasses, but also diverse forbs.

Since purchasing his first piece of ground in 1979, Brad Magness Sr. has been focused on rotation; rotational grazing and also rotating and diversifying both warm- and cool-season grasses. With improvements to the land prioritized over profits, Magness shares that “if you’re good stewards, that is profitable”, and it’s shown through his decades of improvement and success.

Brad Magness Sr.
Brad Magness Sr.

1) What one thing have you done that has been most important to the success of your operation?

I think one of the most important things we've done to make our operations succeed is learning the different species of grass and learning to rotate, to favor those species that are desirable to you.

2) Can you recall a moment or time when the light bulb went on for you to change the way you were grazing?

Well, it's when we hired [retired soil conservationist] Elder Mueller. I don't know if there was a moment that the light bulb came on, but we were working with Elder Mueller to teach us about the range, and pasture, and rotational grazing and whatnot, and we gradually came into the management that we use.

3) What surprised you the most when you changed the way you were grazing?

I think the thing that surprised me most when we changed the way we were grazing, is how much more carrying capacity our ranch had compared to before.

4) What would you say is the biggest misconception people have, who are not managing their grazing systems for resiliency and soil health?

I think one of the things that people misunderstand about rotational grazing, is they think it's going to take a big investment in fencing and time and labor, and that's not the case.

5) Is there something you'd still like to do that you haven't done yet to improve your soil health or grazing system?

If there's anything that I've done or that I'd like to do to improve our operation, it would probably be planting some more certified or foundation seed and harvesting seed for other people to be able to plant warm season grasses themselves.

6) What advice do you have for someone who is considering changing their grazing system to one that's better for building soil health?

Well, nature builds soil, but it might take a hundred years for it to build an inch of topsoil, and it takes very little time to erode that, if you graze too tight and you let the wind blow it away, or whatnot. I would encourage people to graze, but not necessarily intensively graze. I would encourage people to not harvest more than 50% of the current years' production by weight, so that they're not suppressing grass that they want to favor.

7) When you walk across your grasslands, what do you look for as an indicator of healthy grassland and healthy soil?

As I walk across the prairie, one of the things I look for is diversity in the plants that are there, and that includes not just the grasses, but the forbs. A lot of people don't think that those broad leaves are anything but weeds, but they're not. Cattle will browse them. They don't necessarily relish them, but they're part of a healthy range land.

8) What change have you made that you first thought would not work?

The first field that we planted to switchgrass, we crawled around on our hands and knees after we had sewn that down and you might find a plant every square yard. I thought, oh, my land, this is terrible. And old Elder Mueller told us, “Oh no, you've got a good stand here”, and I thought, “this old guy doesn't know what he's talking about”. Just be patient; it grew up thicker than dog's hair.

9) What are the signs that your land is resilient and what does resiliency mean to you?

I think one of the signs of resilience is the ability to withstand and recover from drought. This spring was really dry and, we're filming this in the middle of July, you don't normally get moisture this time of year out here. But, we rested a lot of the pastures. We didn't graze too tight on the ones that we did utilize. Resilience to me means, look at how fast they rebounded after getting a little shot of rain.

10) Which do you relate to most and why, rotate, rest, or recovery?

Well, between rotate, rest, and recover, we've utilized all of them. Bought a piece of ground that we ended up having to rest it for two years, because it had been so badly abused. Whether that's rest or recover, I don't know. But now it's not the worst looking ground that you've seen. I think rotation is important. I think resting between, going around... It even gives you the opportunity to re-graze some places, but you've got to have that rest in between. I don't know that I'm going to highlight one over the other, like I said, we've utilized all three of the R’s.

Visit these “Growing Resilience Through Our Soils” information pages:

1. Podcast page for drought planning fact sheets, Q&As, news, podcasts and more.

2. Video page to watch videos of other ranchers’ journeys toward improved rangeland/pasture.

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