Monitoring of our grazing animals and the impacts on the grasslands we manage is something we do daily.  What does the pasture look like ahead of our herd?  What does the pasture look like where we just moved from?  How do the cattle look (body condition) compared to a week ago?  Based on these observations we can make decisions during the current season and anticipate decisions for the upcoming grazing season.

What about the long-term monitoring?  We started some basic monitoring activities prior to the cattle arriving in 2011.  This includes soil, water and forage sampling.  In 2009 we established a photo monitoring site along with collecting detailed forage data at the site.  We return to this site each year near the same date and collect photos and forage data.  Please share any thoughts you may have after reviewing the photos through the years below.

2014 monitor update, looking back through 2009:

 

Photo Point Monitor 2014

August 4, 2014. The site was grazed twice since the previous photo; mid-November 2013 and early July 2014. The brown forage is mature yellow sweet clover.

July 2013.  The site has been grazed five times since the cattle arived in July 2011.  Usually not for more than a day or two during each grazing event.

July 2013. The site has been grazed five times since the cattle arrived in July 2011. Usually not for more than a day or two during each grazing event.

Where is 2012?  Not sure what happened in 2012.  A major drought developed after mid-June that year.  I probably decided it was to much of a downer to take photos.  Of course now I wish we had a photo.

Photo Point Monitor 2011

August 8, 2011. Cattle arrived on farm July 2011, but this site has not been grazed yet. It has been 30+ years since cattle have grazed this site.

 

Photo Point Monitor 2010

2010 – July 23. This site previously had thorny locust tree invasion. From 2000-2009 trees were removed with hand cutting, spot spraying, multiple burns and some bulldozer work.

 

Photo Point Monitor 2009

2009 July 30. Camera is pointed toward house on far hill in background. House serves as a permanent feature for future photos.

Just happened to take this photo in the spring 2009 prior to establishing the photo point near here.  This was following a spring burn.  The white spots on the hillside are glacial till boulders, most are just at soil surface level.

Just happened to take this photo in the spring 2009 prior to establishing the photo point near here. This was following a spring burn. The white spots on the hillside are glacial till boulders, most are just at soil surface level.

Native pollinators need a constant food supply throughout the growing season.  Various plant species take their turn to offer pollinators needed flowers.  Below we highlight three flowers that we are currently enjoying in our pasture.

Driving by a prairie you would easily notice the maximilian sunflowers, but would you see the butterfly?

sunflower

Take a walk among the tall grass and forbs and this time of year you can find the small white flower of heath aster.

asterflower

A new find this year in our pasture is prairie gentian.  Wondering how I missed this showy purple flower in past years?

Prairie_Gentian_plant

Prairie Gentian Flower

Could it be that the reintroduction of grazing, hoof action and disturbance has stimulated the seed to sprout?  Or possibly the result of the drought we experienced in 2012?  Probably a result of multiple factors that we don’t understand, but none the less, beautiful to look at and the cows thought they tasted great.  Not to worry, we left patches of these flowers ungrazed so they could go to seed for future enjoyment.

These photos are ok for an armature like myself.  If you have not taken the time to view Chris Helzer’s Prairie Ecologist blog, you are missing out on world-class photos related to prairies’!  Take the opportunity to check out his close up photos of insects, flowers and all things prairies’.