Old-timers should be consulted

I recently came across the following in a U.S. government publication: “Realistically, livestock are the primary practical tools for altering vegetation on rangelands because of environmental concerns about herbicides and the high costs of treating vast acreages of rangeland.”

The story described a “recent development” called “conservation grazing,” and said it had “resulted in a marked shift in the once negative views of cattle grazing held by many environmentalists and conservationists.”

I was amazed. Of course, the story listed a number of “tradeoffs” as well, but still it was quite surprising to see such statements in a government publication (“Agricultural Research”).

Last month, a southern New Mexico city’s use of goats for weed control made its local paper’s front page — with photos. It turned out the city’s cost was hugely less for the weed-eating goats than it would have been for the equipment, human workers, etc., to do the same thing. The goats did a better, more complete job, too. Discussions currently are under way to hire the goats for weed-clearing in other parts of the city.

It wasn’t a “new” discovery. Many old-timers could have told them it would work. I remember visiting with an old-time rancher as we watched a set of high-powered (on paper) bulls sell. The guy sitting beside the auctioneer extolled the wonderful numbers of one particular bull as the gate opened for him to come into the sale ring. That bull’s papers said his Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) showed amazingly low birth weights, exceptional growth and high weaning weights, all the characteristics needed to produce beef cattle that make cash registers jingle happily all the way up the marketing chain.

After the gate opened, the ringmen had to push the bull through. He could barely walk. My old-timer friend smiled at me and said quietly, “The old-time cattlemen knew a lot more than they were given credit for.”

I’m thinking the old-timers should be consulted about many other animal and range initiatives. Using food products — like corn — to produce energy comes to mind. Milk and cheese prices have leaped higher. Why? Partly because corn dairy cows need to eat is being used to make ethanol.

Livestock feed — especially corn — has doubled in price in the past year. In fact, any food product linked to grain — cereal, dairy products and meat — is rising in price. Wanta guess who’s paying for that increase?

After the food products are ready, they must be hauled to market. That means transportation costs. Gas prices increased 4.7 percent in February according to government data.

The United States has plenty of oil, gas and coal to help us out, but of course we are told we can’t use that.

In the American Southwest, some anthropologists have decided a one hundred-year drouth caused the inhabitants to leave, beginning about 1200 A.D. or so. One friend laughed and said, “They looked at their timepieces and said, ‘Oh, it’s 1200 A.D. Time for us to leave.’”

Such a drouth would make this discussion moot. Meanwhile, we can brush up on our “good cave-keeping” skills.