Here is an example of erosion control. When we arrived on the land in 1971, this was an impassable gully, now we see grass growing in the new topsoil, collected by simple rock and brush dams.
New Mexico is a windy, arid state. Being arid, you might think that water erosion would not be a major problem; believe it or not, it is a problem because this is an arid state. ‘They’ say that we get about 24” per year of moisture, not much, but you should be here the day it falls. We do get gully-washers now and then. States with twice this much rainfall do not have this problem because of the lush vegetation that holds the topsoil in place. Unless, of course, something has destroyed the vegetation. So also, here in NM we are learning – slowly. This is marginal land. For one thing, our growing season here is only 72 days, (2 ½ Months). Some people have gardens, but most concede that it is just not worth the effort.
The safest and easiest produce for this land is grass. Where grass will grow, we encourage it. Most locals didn’t want this particular ranch with its ‘rocky hillsides’. They wanted grassy bottomland. We weren’t grass oriented. We wanted the mix. We are still happy with it, but it is a special case all the way.
This area was re-seeded after burning scrub-oak and poison ivy out.
We let out the ranch to grazing during September and October (after the main growing season, but while the grass still has maximum nutrition.) In a good year, it will accommodate 60 head of cattle for two months. Soil Conservation has a rule of thumb – graze half – leave half, but we are not that cautious. One of our neighbors said, ‘The cows will eat the ice-cream first.’ Meaning the best-tasting grass. You expect that, but we watch the grass closely to see what they are eating. Eventually, they will get to a point where, in their opinion, there is nothing left. If the fence is weak at this point, this is when they will go through it.
If the fences are intact, they will begin to hunt – to walk all over without grazing. When we see this happening, we know that the grass is just about eaten. We then take the cattle off.
We have learned that some grasses (like popoton) and forbs (weeds) are edible, but that the cows cannot bite them off. For this reason, we often mow the pasture before we take the cows off, so that they can eat the clippings just like they eat hay.
 Pruning is removing branches from standing trees. Thinning is removing trees.