Any ranching operation requires an abundance of natural resources. Land, water, food, and wood for structures quickly add up. Making a ranch more sustainable helps to replenish these resources by creating a healthy ecosystem on your land. Small measures make a big difference, helping the environment and saving you headaches in the long run. Here are four ways to make a ranch more sustainable.
1. Upgrade Your Irrigation System
Drought presents a major challenge to ranchers. Scorching summer heat dries out grass and spoils the grazing supply, and trucking in water is more expensive than ever. Outdated irrigation wastes important freshwater and costs you money.
New technology lets you track and direct water around your ranch with pinpoint accuracy. Keep your meadows greener through drought by using the optimal amount of water and tracking every drop. How? A smart irrigation valve contains a built-in flow meter that measures how much water the specific valve is using. An antenna lets the valve wirelessly send the data to you to adjust your irrigation strategy. Built-in solar panels don’t require maintenance or changing batteries. High-tech valves can also be set to a schedule to automate irrigation and save time.
2. Try Multi-Paddock Grazing
Sustainable farming is all about rotating crops through different areas to keep the soil healthy. Apply a similar technique to your ranch by frequently moving herds through different paddocks before they eat all of the available grass.
Multi-paddock grazing strategies range from intensive efforts to simply moving through five paddocks on a set schedule. The Journal of Environmental Management released a 20-page report on the effects of multi-paddock grazing, but the short version is: Move your herds around paddocks frequently for more sustainability.
Why is it important to move livestock through paddocks? It benefits the animals, the plants they eat, and the land itself. Leaving a steady supply of edible plants ensures these plants won’t be overtaken by inedible weeds, leaving the pasture useless. It also keeps nutrient supplies in the soil stable, since an entire meadow of plants isn’t growing in at once. Finally, this strategy more closely mimics the naturally migratory behaviors of herbivores for better health in your livestock.
3. Maintain Healthy Rivers and Ponds
Did you know that you can make your ranch more sustainable without affecting your livestock at all? Many ranches neglect their natural streams and ponds or clear them of life, decreasing biodiversity. Biodiversity refers to the total number of species in any given area. An array of fish, frogs and insects contribute to a healthy ecosystem of fast-growing plants and rich soil. Here are three easy ways to boost these important species for a more sustainable ranch:
- Keep debris out of streams and ponds.
- Don’t weed ponds or disturb them unless absolutely necessary.
- Keep runoff and excessive waste out of freshwater as much as possible.
- Dig a few stormwater ponds in unused locations on your land. These fill up during storms and can become miniature ecosystems.
- Get in touch with local biologists for more tips on how to keep freshwater ecosystems healthy on your ranch.
4. Encourage Pollinators
Pollinators are the backbone of any environment. Without a healthy population of pollinators, helpful plants can’t reproduce. Faster-reproducing weeds may overtake them, so it’s important to make your ranch inviting for pollinating species.
Again, this doesn’t have to be a large project. A handful of pollinator-friendly gardens are all you need to bolster the natural population. Native plants and wildflowers are best for pollinators because they’re already familiar with them. Make sure your ranch has plants that flower at differing times of the year. Finally, place gardens near windbreaks such as sheds so that flying species can feed without competing with high winds.
A sustainable ranch is good for your bottom line as well as the natural environment. Sustainability keeps your land fertile and valuable. Smarter irrigation, rotating grazing, and keeping an eye on natural species populations will serve your ranch well in the long run.