Building Land Stewards in Colorado
Published on September 16, 2020
By Jennifer Cook
Air, water, soil, plants, and animals are natural resources we depend on every day and yet many of us don’t understand their dynamic relationships or how to protect them. We can be better land stewards through simple strategies that will help protect these natural resources.
Grazing livestock and horses can help regenerate our soils and forages if managed in a way that protects from overgrazing. Overgrazing occurs when our livestock graze for too long in one area. The desired forages eventually die-off from continued defoliation and weeds take advantage of overgrazed areas, becoming infestations and reducing palatable forages even further.
Strategies to limit overgrazing are to fence a “sacrifice area” and utilize temporary fencing. A sacrifice area is an area with shelter and water that is a comfortable size for livestock and horses to move around and spend much of their time. Pastures can be subdivided using temporary/movable fencing so that YOU control where and when your livestock graze. Pastures are grazed for a short time, protecting grasses by always maintaining at least a 3-inch stubble. When pasture grasses are 3-inches or shorter, it’s time to move livestock to the sacrifice area to let the grass regrow. The sacrifice area is also used in the winter when grasses are not actively growing.
Manure is a valuable resource and adds organic matter and nutrients to our soils. But manure can also become a water pollutant. Store manure at least 150 feet away from wells, ditches, dry washes, lakes and streams, to protect water quality. As water runs through manure, it carries with it nitrogen and other nutrients from the manure that will pollute aboveground and underground water. Excess nutrients in our water can cause human and livestock health issues and are what causes the algae blooms and fish kills we hear about on the news.
Regenerative farming and carbon sequestration are words you may have heard recently. They have to do with building soil health and protecting air quality. Land managers play an important role in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide, a greenhouses gas. Carbon sequestration is the process by which atmospheric carbon dioxide is taken up by grasses, trees, and plants through photosynthesis, and stored as carbon in soils, roots, branches, and foliage. Carbon sequestration offsets carbon dioxide emissions from sources such as burning fossil fuels and forest fires.
Tilling, burning, and tearing up the soil releases stored carbon and increases particulate matter (inhalable particles such as dust and smoke) into the air. We can protect soil health and air quality by planting cover crops on bare ground and/or establishing perennial vegetation. These are some of the strategies we use to regenerate the soil as in regenerative farming.
An easy way to learn more is through CSU Online non-credit Land Stewardship badge program, developed in partnership between CSU Online and CSU Extension. Take one or more of the online self-paced short courses. The target audience includes: small acreage land owners, farm or livestock managers, urban/rural hobby farmers, realtors and listing agents.
Participants will gain a better understanding of the available natural resources, how to cultivate them sustainably, and build an effective long-term land management plan. The Land Stewardship Program, developed for the Colorado-arid west soil and climatic conditions, provides the learner with more localized land strategies.
Online courses are open and available for registration. To register, please visit the link to the coarse below:
Learn more about the Land Stewardship Program.
CSU Extension’s Small Acreage Management website is also a great place to find recorded webinars, videos, and articles on managing your land.