Rest Rotation Grazing

By: Amos S. Eno
Posted on:08/12/2011 Updated:08/25/2011

This is a continuation of our series of posts about the Chilton Ranch in Arizona.

I was curious about how Jim manages his ranch.  His response was modest compared to the glowing reports in the scientific studies I found online.  

“We manage our ranch using a deferred rest rotation grazing program developed by Santa Rita Research Ranch affiliated with the University of Arizona.  We have four herds of cattle and about 20 different pastures, and we rotate cattle through them. 

“Each herd has a 3-month summer pasture, a 6-month winter pasture, and a 3-month spring pasture.  We don’t hit it hard, averaging about 28% usage in each pasture by controlling both pasture and herd size.  Historically, it rains here in January, February and March to grow spring forage and, most importantly, it rains again in July, August, and September, our summer growing season.  Our rotation allows 18 months of rest for each summer-grazed pasture.  Since the pastures are grazed each year during a different season, all get rested during the summer growing season at least once every other year.”  

Grass Farmers

“What we have found looking at transects (forage data sites) scattered all over the ranch, which were established by the Forest Service in the 1960s,” Jim continues, “is we have less space between our key species of grass plants now than in the 1960s, and there are more native mid-sized perennial grasses and less short grasses.  Essentially,” he points out, “we are grass farmers.”

Jim is being entirely too modest.  Let me quote from the independent monitoring report prepared by Jerry Holechek, Ph.D. - who literally wrote the textbook on range management:  

“Our 6-year (1998-2003) summary of rangeland monitoring on the Montana Allotment [a Forest Service grazing allotment], shows it to be a definite range management success story.  Even though dry conditions have occurred on the Montana Allotment during the last 3 years, rangeland ecological condition and forage production are in a strong upward trend.”  

“Our surveys on the Montana Allotment . . .show good grazing management practices can promote improvement in ecological condition in arid and semi-arid areas even when accompanied by drought.”  

“The Montana Allotment has probably been more intensively monitored than any piece of grazing land in the western United States.  Jim Chilton has used monitoring information to quickly respond to changing climatic and vegetation condition. We believe this to be an important reason for his management success.”

Stay tuned for more on wildlife, legal victories, immigration dangers, and Jim’s successful approach to managing endangered species and the Endangered Species Act.