Friday, August 28, 2020
Ranching runs deep in Don Casey’s veins. “It is either in your blood or it’s not. For me, it’s just in my blood to be a rancher,” explains the fifth-generation Blanco County, Texas cattleman.
It’s safe to say conservation is part of his DNA as well. Named 2019 Texas Conservation Rancher of the Year by the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, at 76 Casey says he comes from a long line of conservationists, recalling how his Grandpa Victor taught him to identify plants on the open range when they were riding out to check cattle or fixing fence together.
Today, he uses this skill to manage the rangeland, letting the condition, height and species of grass tell him when it’s time to rotate his cattle out of one pasture or rest a pasture for an extended period.
Leaving enough of the plant behind is essential to not only species survival and weed control but also overall rangeland health. Over the last century, the Hill Country Casey loves lost much of its topsoil to erosion, leaving a fragile ecosystem in need of care. It was a matter of concern for Casey. Through his eﬀorts, Casey is encouraging plentiful and diverse plant species to feed and anchor the soil.
With more than 1,000 acres to manage, Casey spends much of his time meticulously monitoring grassland conditions.
explains Casey, of the belief that drives his management decisions.
Conserving the environment is important to Casey. He wants the land to be well-maintained and fertile for his cattle and long-term needs. After seeing some of the effects of climate change on his region, it has been Casey’s goal to ensure his land keeps its natural forage and soil conditions. He does this by utilizing rotational grazing, a method of grazing management where animals are moved through several pastures to improve soil and plant conditions.
A rancher can follow their own method of moving cattle. There are different ways this can be done depending on the land. Rotational grazing can prevent the detrimental effects of overgrazing and encourage the regrowth of plants on the land. It is essential in fighting back against some of the environmental effects of climate change and a fragile ecosystem.
There is no one way to do rotational grazing. There are different techniques a rancher could use for grazing their cattle. It will usually depend on the size of the land and how much plant life you want to preserve. Do the research on grazing techniques and select the best methods for your land.
Ranching in the drought-prone Hill Country of Texas often tests Casey’s determination to put grass management first. But he always does. Sometimes culling his herd, if need be, to reduce grazing pressure. Reducing his cattle size is one of the actions Casey is willing to take to preserve the land. Fortunately, the land responds to Casey’s care. “We have been in a drought recently, and many ranchers had to sell oﬀ, but I’m not hurting at all. We are going into winter with enough grass to make it for a while.”
An engineer in Austin, TX for 25 years prior to taking over the ranch full time, Casey thrives on improving conditions and developing management practices that work. Practices like cross fencing to reduce pasture size so he can more intensely manage grazing. Separating cattle by age or breeding status using new fence is one way to reduce overall grazing pressure. To do this, Casey added miles of boundary and cross fencing. Fencing plays a key role in Casey’s rotational grazing operation.
“Fencing is what keeps the cattle where they need to be for a length of time. I need them to be there,” Casey explains.
Casey makes use of Bekaert’s barbed wire fencing, particularly the Cattleman® Pro 14 gauge Barbed Wire to get his rotational grazing done his way. It is strong and durable and keeps his cattle where they need to be. Casey prefers it for new fence.
His long-term conservation goal is to restore the land back to pre-settlement ecological conditions, providing a quality wildlife habitat. “I wish I could go back and see what the land was like when my ancestors first arrived in the early 1840s.”
In addition to new fence, over the years, Casey has had to replace World War I-era fence his great-grandfather put up a century ago. “After the War, great grandpa got a bargain on surplus concertina barbed wire.” Today, he builds fencing using high-tensile Bekaert Cattleman® Pro 14-gauge barbed wire. “In addition to tensile strength, they reverse the twist of the wire at every barb. One time its twisted to the right and the next time it's twisted to the left. What they have eﬀectively done is, they have made a quarter-mile long spring. This is why when cows, deer, elk feral hogs or snow apply pressure, it will stretch and snap back.”
Tensile strength is the term used to describe the resistance of steel or other materials to break under pressure. Compared to low carbon barbed wire, high-tensile barbed wire can withstand 25 to 35% more pressure before breaking. Because high-tensile wire only has 3% elongation, compared to low-carbon wire’s 13% elongation, high-tensile barbed wire doesn’t sag from snow load or when a bull elk pushes up against it.
“Being an engineer, I’m a bit of an experimenter. Little more than 35 years ago, I put up a fence along County Road 302 and half was Bekaert, high-tensile barbed wire with a class 3 coating. The other half was low carbon barbed wire without a coating. To this day, none of those five strands of high-tensile wire have broken. None of them are rusty. The other strands have broken and it’s rusty.” Across the landscape of Casey’s ranch, ecosystems’ needs vary– and so do his rotational grazing and fencing techniques.
Casey uses barbed wire to limit cattle access along two bodies of water which meander through sections of his ranch, Cypress Creek and the Pedernales River. In riparian areas he moves cattle through more quickly, leaving behind at least a foot of plants standing to increase sediment filtration and erosion protection. It is about balancing the needs of the environment and getting the best for his livestock.
On the open range, pasture-size increases to 150 to 400 acres, but in areas of restored pastureland, where Casey and his dad introduced Kleingrass on land that had previously been cultivated, the terrain has improved its soil conditions and experienced regrowth. Casey shows how ranchers can adapt to challenges and preserve their land for the future.