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F. H. Tipton
This system prevents cows with calves being turned out
on the winter range in October. Dry cows in good condition and pregnant winter well on the desert. Pregnant
cows with suckling calves do not do well on these winter
ranges. Fall-calving cows winter well as long as they are
in good condition at the time of calving.
The T Quarter Circle Ranch, located at Winnemucca,
NV, is an extensive cattle ranching operation where innovative approaches to management have been developed
and applied. The ranch operation features winter grazing
on desert ranges where cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is
an important component of the forage base. Ranch management is based on optimizing direct livestock harvesting
of forage, with minimum labor and capital requirements
for hay production. The basic concept is to manage with
cheatgrass, but not for cheatgrass.
We have few fences on our allotments; even allotment
boundaries are not fenced. The presence or absence of
stock water is utilized to control cattle distribution.
Cattle distribution is additionally enhanced by behavioral training of replacement heifers that are raised on
the range. They learn to utilize the available forage and
browse sources of various range communities on a seasonal basis. This includes the utilization of saltbush
(Atri,plex) fruits for a digestible protein source during the
winter and Indian ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides) seeds
retained in inflorescence as energy sources. Replacement
heifers have to learn to use cheatgrass as a forage source
on the winter ranges. Cheatgrass is extremely important
to the well being of the wintering cow herd. Cows and
subsequent replacement heifers that have been behaviorally conditioned to these arid ranges become very adept
at utilizing appropriate forage sources. In these relatively
low-elevation arid environments the caryopses do not entirely disperse from the cheatgrass inflorescence. When
the cows are turned onto the desert winter ranges in
October they readily utilize cheatgrass heads. The total
digestible nutrients of these seed heads is higher than the
herbage of Indian ricegrass or needle-and-thread (Stipa
Cows move through cheatgrass stands and utilize the
seed heads first. In early November they began to utilize
the top portion of the dry herbage. As cool temperatures
of early winter settle in the desert, the cows begin to utilize browse and mature fruits from fourwing saltbush
(Atriplex canescens), shadscale (A. confertifolia), black
and Bailey greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus and S.
baileyi), and the browse of white sage or winter fat (Ceratoides lanata). During the winter the cows appear to be
utilizing the cheatgrass herbage as bulk in their diet.
In early spring the cattle switch their diet to the first
species that become green and initiate growth. The first
grasses to be utilized are the ephemerals, squirreltail
(Sitanion hystrix) and Sandberg bluegrass (Poa sandbergii). These native perennials initiate growth before
the winter rosettes of cheatgrass initiate growth and become grazable. Once cheatgrass grows enough, so cattle
can utilize the herbage, grazing preference switches to
The T Quarter Circle Ranch is located near Winnemucca,
NV, and utilizes open range that includes both public and
private land. The elevation at the ranch headquarters,
located on the Humboldt River, is 4,200 feet with some
ranges extending up to 8,500 feet.
The ranch is a cow/calf operation. The annual grazing
cycle consists of cows being wintered on the desert ranges
of valley floors and lower foothills from October to early
May. The cattle are moved into higher elevation ranges
where they graze until midsummer. Summer gathering
of the stock results in the last of the cows reaching the
meadows along the Humboldt River in late August.
Cattle graze the meadows in a rotational grazing system until after Labor Day. They are then moved to meadows that have been windrowed. The windrowed hay allows the cattle high-quality forage into the early fall. Hay
for winter feeding of bulls and replacement heifers is produced in improved fields rather than native hay meadows.
Marketing begins with the calves in early September
and finishes with the final weaning and culling of the cow
herd in late September. At this time the cow herd is
ready for the winter range.
As with all winter outfits it is very important that the
cattle are in condition to head back out on the range. Our
system does not allow us to control our bulls in the spring
breeding season as well as some operations, so we take
our bulls out of the cow herd for the months of September
through November. This ensures that we will not get
very many calves in the months of June through August.
Paper presented at the Symposium on Ecology, Management, and Restoration of Intermountain Annual Rangelands, Boise, ID, May 18-22, 1992.
F. H. Tipton is co-owner and manager of the T Quarter Circle Ranch,
Winnemucca, NV.
this species. On desert ranges the cattle follow the growth
of cheatgrass up slope into the foothills.
The nutritional status of cows on the range can be
judged by watching the moisture content of their manure.
On these desert ranges, as moisture content of manure
noticeably drops, the cows will be moving to a new forage
many unique characteristics compared to normal upland
big sagebrush environments. There is often little herbaceous fuel in these lake plain sagebrush range sites and
wildfires occur infrequently in comparison to upland sites.
Cheatgrass may be largely excluded from these sites by
the soluble salt content of the soils.
A band of moving sand dunes some 80 miles long and
10 miles wide is moving across T Quarter Circle rangelands. The dunes are high enough to cover windmills,
and are moving fast enough from the southwest to the
northeast that line cabins buried early in the 20th century are just emerging. The dunes apparently were an
ancient delta of an antecedent Humboldt River. Where
these sand fields move into the foothills, range sites are
rich in species diversity and productive in forage. Indian
ricegrass, needle-and-thread, and fourwing saltbush are
the major forage and browse species. Cheatgrass is not
adapted to these productive sand field sites and does not
become a factor in their management. The unique seedbed requires species adapted to the continual moving sand
and may preclude cheatgrass.
Even more subtle in upland situations are site-specific
differences that control the distribution and production of
cheatgrass. Sites with the greatest potential seem to recover from disturbances more quickly than shallow-soiled,
more erodible sites. Cheatgrass cover on the poorer sites
may be protection from accelerated erosion.
Cheatgrass on the ranges of the T Quarter Circle Ranch
is important to wildlife. Chukar partridges Wectoris
chukar) utilize cheatgrass seeds throughout the winter,
and also utilize the green coleoptiles of emerging cheatgrass plants when they are available. Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) use seed heads of cheatgrass in the same
manner as cattle. Deer utilization of seed heads appears
to start about 2 weeks before utilization by cattle.
Portions of the T Quarter Circle's range have burned
several times in wildfires in the last 2 decades. About 40
percent of the entire range has burned. Initially, most of
the secondary succession after the fires was dominated by
cheatgrass. Perennial grasses have increased on many of
these burned areas, as shown by precise condition and
trend studies sponsored by the T Quarter Circle Ranch
and conducted by a private consulting firm.
I feel this increase is a result of careful management of
the grazing resource that made cheatgrass the bulk of the
forage, while favoring perennial plants for seed production and subsequent seedling establishment. The key to
this management is to have enough flexibility to permit
winter grazing. Over the time span of a decade there will
be more years that favor perennial seedlings than there
will be years that favor cheatgrass.
Perhaps the area of greatest ecological significance for
cheatgrass on the T Quarter Circle Ranch is on the margin of salt-desert environments. This is a type of environment that Dwight Billings (see these proceedings and
Billings 1945) described as too dry for the growth of big
sagebrush, but with soils not influenced by appreciable
amounts of soluble salts. This is an area where only recently cheatgrass has become an abundant species (Young
and Tipton 1990).
The potential plant communities appear to be dominated by shadscale and Bailey greasewood with a sparse
understory of squirreltail and occasional perennial forbs.
At infrequent intervals, native herbaceous annuals grow
and flower in these communities in response to aboveaverage winter and spring precipitation. Cheatgrass
invasion has brought two things to this environment:
(a) greater forage production than existed under pristine
conditions, and (b) the potential for stand renewal by
burning in wildfires.
Wildfires are not the only natural disturbance that influences T Quarter Circle rangelands. The western army
cutworm (Euxoa auxiliaris) has occurred in large numbers
for the past several years and has been very destructive to
herbaceous seedlings. Mature perennial herbaceous species recover from cutworm damage. Large-scale Mormon
cricket (Anabrus simplex) outbreaks have occurred, and
several different species of grasshoppers (families Tetrigidae, Acrididae, or Tettigoniidae) can become sufficiently
abundant to damage forage production.
All of these types of disturbance affect the operations
of the ranch and the successional status of the range resources. They have to be accounted for in management
It requires more effort and skill to correctly manage
cheatgrass than perennial bunchgrass ranges. Cheatgrass management requires fuel management because of
the higher incidence of wildfires. Stocking rates and the
season of use are very important on these ranges whether
they are grazed in the spring, fall, or winter. It is hard for
modem range managers to understand that heavy use of
cheatgrass may be the correct management. Conversely,
Basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp.
triclentata)-dominated plant commwiities occur on soils
associated with the lake plains of pluvial Lake Lahontan
on the T Quarter Circle ranges. These range sites have
rotational grazing systems with rest periods designed in
the system favor cheatgrass at the expense of perennial
seedlings, as well as violating basic sense in fuel management. When shrub ranges with cheatgrass understories
are burned in wildfires an ecological window opens that
permits seeding of desirable perennial species. While
these seeded areas are being given a chance to establish,
alternative forage can be obtained by heavily grazing
cheatgrass-dominated areas. With uniform pastures, and
adequate fencing and water distribution, flash grazing or
intensive short-term rotational grazing may reduce cheatgrass and favor perennial vegetation.
It has long been known that cheatgrass forage production varies from season to season depending on precipitation. I have found on the T Quarter Circle that elevationa! differences and geographic differences on a ranch
of this size usually result in sufficient cheatgrass production and that it is a significant part of the forage base.
I like to characterize our management system on the
T Quarter Circle Ranch as managing with cheatgrass,
not for cheatgrass. We manage the livestock so that we
do not do anything for the cow that she can do better.
Billings, W. D.1945. The plant associations of the Carson
Desert region, western Nevada. Butler University Biological Studies. 7:89-123.
Young, J. A.; Tipton, F. H. 1990.1nvasion ofcheatgrass
into arid environments of the Lahontan basin. In:
McArthur, E. D.; Romney, E. M.; Smith, S. S.; Tueller,
P. T., compilers. Proceedings-symposium on cheatgrass invasion, shrub die-off, and other aspects of shrub
biology and management; 1989 April 5-7; Las Vegas,
NV. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-276. Odgen, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station: 37-40.