Texas Tech University

Researchers Asking if Grazing and Fire Practices in Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitats are Affecting Cows

George Watson

July 17, 2019

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

The project is bolstered by a grant from the Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management.

In every ecosystem around the world there are potentially hundreds of living species that can be affected by a change in that ecosystem, whether it's natural or manmade.

What can be good for the survival of one species might have detrimental effects on another species, so a critical balance must be maintained in order to preserve all living things in the ecosystem. Quantitative research can determine if certain ecological preservation practices are having the prescribed results while not harming that balance.

Blake Grisham, an assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources Management in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, is spearheading a research group with just such a goal. Also included in the group are:

  • Carlos Villalobos, associate professor, Department of Natural Resources Management;

  • Darren Hudson, professor and Larry Combest chairman, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics;

  • Randy Howard, Roswell, New Mexico, Field Office, Bureau of Land Management; and

  • Kyle Dillard, Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management, Milnesand, New Mexico.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken
Lesser Prairie-Chicken

Together, they are attempting to determine how prescribed fire and grazing practices for the lesser prairie-chicken in New Mexico affect beef herd health and productivity.

Their two-year research project has been bolstered by a grant of more than $289,000 from the Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management. They will take already established methods of fire and grazing management in lesser prairie-chicken habitats and determine if those practice are affecting the health of the cattle, a critical socio-economic driver for the region.

"In previous assessments on prescribed grazing, emphasis was on understanding how variation in intensity and magnitude of these ecological drivers affects vegetation composition and structure as well as lesser prairie-chicken demographics," Grisham said. "But quantitative, scientific data pertaining to overall beef herd health and productivity for local producers are lacking."

Grisham said the lacking metrics include, but are not limited to, body condition of cattle pre- and post-grazing, mineral intake during grazing events, conception and abortion rates, fecal samples, whether supplemental feed is necessary during grazing events, and pounds per acre during pre- and post-grazing.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken
Lesser Prairie-Chicken

"The goal of this study is to assess these, and potentially other metrics, for the beef herd in the area of critical conservation concern within the guidelines established by grazing management for lesser prairie-chickens by the Bureau of Land Management," Grisham said. "Students will be responsible for assessing the long-term feasibility of grazing for producers while simultaneously monitoring vegetation and lesser prairie-chicken response to prescribed grazing/burning. We also anticipate quantitatively comparing these metrics to previously published scientific literature on beef herd health and productivity in context of various operational methods across the Southern High Plains."

Grisham hopes this research will facilitate a better understanding of if and how grazing plans tailored specifically to lesser prairie-chicken management differ from other operational standards not specifically designed around species and ecosystem management.