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CALF-RAISING ON THE PLAINS.
Hon. NORMAN J. COLMAN,
Commissioner of Agriculture: SIR: Persons who have never seen the west bank of the Missis. sissippi are nevertheless able to maintain from their own experience and observation that this is a very large country. But there are very few people who really comprehend how large it is. And the first thing which will impress one who makes the range of industry of the United States the subject of investigation will be the immense area over which it is extended and in which it must, for many years at least, be recognized as a leading interest. Drawing a lino from Galveston northward to the southwestern corner of Manitoba, and making due allowance for the purely agricultural part of Texas, everything west to the summit of the Sierra Nevadas may be classed as included in the range country. This is an area containing a million and a half square miles, or a thousand million acres, and (not counting Alaska) is about one-half the total area of the United States, and equal in extent to thirty-seven States as large as Ohio.
In different portions of this vast area are presented almost every possible variation of surface and physical features-level plains in one place, mountains in another, great stretches which can be classed properly neither as plain nor mountain, low valleys, and high plateaus. Every variety of soil is also presented, from coarse gravel and shifting sands, in which scarcely any vegetable growth can be maintained, up through every possible grade and shade to the deep alluvium of the valleys and the rich mold on the mountain benches. But there is one common climatic condition which in one respect gives this area a similar character throughout. This is the scant rains in the late summer and autumn, whereby the growth of the native grasses is arrested, and they become dried and cured into natural hay as they stand, constituting a winter feed which is impossible in more humid regions. It is this peculiarity which distinguishes the range country from all others, and which renders the range industry possible. But for this peculiarity it would be impossible for cattle to subsist in the open air more than half the year.
THE NATURAL GRASSES OF THE RANGE COUNTRY. . There is an almost endless variety of native grasses growing in different localities. At the New Orleans Exposition there was a display of about 200 different grasses found in the State of Texas, and an equally large collection has been made of the grasses native to Colorado. Even of the principal grasses there are of each several varieties. Many of these grasses, however, from their limited growth and narrow range, are of little importance in a grazing
S. MIs. 156- 12
One of the principal
grasses is the gama-grass (commonly known as the mesquite or buffalo), the Bouteloua oligostachya of the botanists. Another is the buffalo or false mesquite, the Buchloe dactyloides of the botanists. Another prominent grass is blue-stem or blue-joint (Agropyrum glaucum). Then there are the so-called bunch-grasses in great variety, of which Ericoma cuspidatata is the principal and most widely disseminated, growing from California to the British Possessions, and eastward through the interior to the Missouri River. Rye-grasses also flourish in some localities.
All of the grasses named are of slight growth, but highly nutritious. Their quantity can be largely increased by the application of water where conveniences exist for irrigation, but not to such an extent it is thought as to give as good returns for the expense and labor as can be afforded by tame grasses. The blue-stem especially responds most liberally to the application of water, but it has been noticed that its quality suffers greatly, and that it is reduced in nutritive value below that of timothy hay-whereas grown upon non-irrigated land it ranked much higher. As it constitutes the main winter feed, a season favorable to a luxuriant growth will in some measure impair the excellence of feed on the range during the succeeding winter months.
A VAST AREA MUST BE PERMANENTLY DEVOTED TO GRAZING.
Much of the great area of land embraced in the range country is of course capable of cultivation. There are numerous fertile valleys in the more mountainous portion and vast stretches upon the plains which by irrigation can be made suitable for successful agriculture. But deducting these there remains a vast area—the major part of the whole-which can not be farmed; at any rate until through increasing population the rewards of agriculture become so much greater than at present as to justify new methods and much greater expense being put upon the land to render it productive, than would be considered practicable in the light of present experience and conditions. This great area must either remain idle and unproductive or be given over to grazing for a period of time sufficiently great as to justify this being regarded as their permanent use. That they will not be permitted to remain unproductive in this practical age, when men are everywhere seeking avenues for the employment of both capital and labor, is quite certain. In fact, these lands are practically pretty well stocked already, possibly excepting restricted focalities hore and there. Some few Indian reservations, seemingly large when considered by themselves, but insignificant in area when compared with the whole grazing country, remain to be covered with herds as the Indian question is again adjusted to meet the fresh requirements of the white man. But, aside from these, there is nowhere room which some one does not claim and consider very well stocked.
There may be, as has been suggested by some writers on this subject, considerable changes to come over the range industry as time progresses. But it will always remain a range industry, and necessity in one way and another will bring about an increase in its production. If the larger owners give way to those of smaller pretensions, the land will likely be more closely utilized than at present, and more cattle raised to a given area. If, on the other hand, the large owners absorb the holdings of the smaller, it will be through an acquisition of the actual title of such land as will secure absolute control of the ranges. The increased investment will not only stimulate but fairly compel improvement in methods and greater care to secure the highest possible product. And the result will be the same-more cattle.
In estimating the carrying capacity of the range, it is generally calculated that 40 acres should be allowed to a steer. But the calculation is a very rough one, and there is nothing certain about it, although it is likely much too high. There are locations on the high “divides," so remote from water, that while affording excellent grass but little of it can be utilized, and is not sought by cattle except in seasons of great scarcity. Then there are great plains of disintegrated rock and loose, shifting materials, which produce little useful vegetation. There are plains where the soil and water are impregnated to a damaging degree with alkalies. There are great ranges of abrupt mountains, where the country is so broken and much of it is so steep and high as to be practically useless, and where the grazing areas are practically confined to the valleys or parks on occasionally favorable slopes. As a rule, there are few stock ranges in which at some point there is not more or less, and often a great deal, of comparatively unproductive land. So no one knows just how much it does take to graze a steer, and whether it be 40 acres in one place and less than 40 in another will depend upon the local conditions and the season, The Texas State Land Board is said to have calculated 10 acres to be sufficient in the case of lands belonging to that State, but the cattle men claim 30. Possibly there is a medium between the two which more nearly represents the true point.
There are now not far from 10,000,000 cattle maintained upon the range. With one to each 40 acres, the range is capable of sustaining 25,000,000 head. And if it should be demonstrated that it has a higher average maintaining capacity than one steer to each 40 acres, the range stock can be correspondingly increased. The difference of a single acre would permit of an increase of a million head in the aggregate number of cattle. However, in considering these totals and the possibilities they suggest, a large deduction must be made for the millions of sheep and horses also maintained upon the range, and which, in proportion to their numbers, limit the number of cattle maintained in their vicinity. But whether 40 acres are required or less than 40 acres, one thing is quite certain, that it takes a great deal more than any one who has never been upon the range would suppose. The native grasses are not strong and luxuriant growers, and even if moisture and all the conditions of soil and surface were favorable would not produce heavily. And as their period of growth is confined mainly to the spring and early summer, when they are stimulated by an occasional rain they produce very little in point of weight and bulk, and their admirable quality is not sufficient to compensate for their lack of quantity. These matters controlling the sustaining capacity of the range are important in forming any correct estimate of the business; for whether a person has one steer or a thousand, he must have room on a scale to which the sober agricultural experience of older and in many respects more favored regions is quite a stranger,
FAIR-SIZED HERDS ESSENTIAL TO SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS.
There is an old saying that “one should not carry all his eggs in one basket,” but if circumstances require that they all go into one basket it would seem to be prudent that the basket be large and that there be plenty of eggs. In that event there is a likelihood that some of them will remain unbroken in any contingency. The rangeman, through the force of circumstances, is compelled to place all his eggs in one basket-he can produce nothing but live stock. If there comes a season of drought, which diminishes the feed and prevents a due proportion of cattle from getting fat and renders inevitable heavier fosses than usual the succeeding winter, he can recoupe from no other crop. If the market is unfavorable for his one product he has no other to sell. If beef is low in price he has nothing high in price. If the time to sell is unpropitious and money is to be made by holding he can not wait. If there comes a disastrous storm everything he has is exposed. His cattle are drifted far away by storms and may or may not be wholly recovered, and certainly not without considerable expense, and losses are often encountered which would bankrupt an Eastern farmer. Under such circumstances the range man has only one recourse—to raise enough cattle to make his business renumerative despite these disadvantages. And he must have room for this additional stock and must maintain a herd out of proportion, in point of numbers, to what would be necessary on inclosed farms in the Eastern States.
Then there are certain incidents of the business growing out of the wandering and intermixture of cattle of different owners, which fix a limit to which it would seem the range interest can be subdivided among many owners, and which require, if it be conducted successfully at all, that it be upon a certain scale. One must at least be allowed, first, the maintenance of enough cattle to return the cost of the least help, horses, and other expenses, with which a small herd can be managed and the annual losses made good; and, second, enough additional cattle to make a living business. This much would constitute a very small owner in the arid regions-one not in position to make or aspire to a large income-but he would be considered a large owner and a large occupier of land in any other region.
To what extent public policy will favor larger operations than those described is a matter of opinion upon which many people differ and which it is not the purpose of the present paper to discuss. However, it is worthy of remark, in leaving this branch of the subject, that a very large proportion of range men now in the country are doing a business not above that outlined, and a very considerable proportion of remaining range men have a business not greatly exceeding these limits. The number of large owners counting their cattle by the thousands of head is very small.
It is not impossible that, as the settlements encroach from the east and the settlements upon irrigated lands multiply and widen upon the west (for more and more land seems coming under the irrigated process without any visible increase in the volume of the streams) the conditions now surrounding the range industry will be greatly modified, especially throughout that large section of country located east of the mountains. If ordinary agriculture can not everywhere be carried on, something, perhaps, in the way of cattle forage may be raised in situations where it is now thought to be impossible. New grasses, too, may be introduced ; and, in short, the business brought nearer the conditions which prevail in the older States, such as cattle receiving care in winter and perhaps subject to more restraint, if not actually maintained in inclosed pastures, during the summer. But, without speculating further upon these altered conditions which the future may have in store, it is the present purpose to give some account of the business as it is now conducted, under the conditions, natural and otherwise, by which it is at present surrounded.
THE RANGE-HOW MUCH LAND SHOULD BE OWNED.
Taking things as he finds them, about the only course a rangeman can pursue, whether he owned few cattle or many, is to turn them out and let them run. Cattle when turned out in this way, unless they attempt to regain an old range, which they seldom do if removed any great distance from it, unless driven by stress of weather or feed, are not likely to pass beyond natural boundaries. Thus, if turned out upon a water-course, they are not likely to pass over the “divide" to another, unless it be near by, but may generally be found somewhere upon the slopes or water-shed of the stream upon which they were originally placed, or wandering to the next stream, are likely to remain there. They seldom pass over a high mountain, and especially if much timbered. So, when a ranchman turns out cattle he has a tolerable conception of the boundaries within which they will ordinarily graze, and within which most of them will, under usual conditions, be found. This he terms his "range.
He should have a home ranch or headquarters, which should be located at such point as will permit of the range being worked and overlooked with the greatest convenience. Here are corrals for holding cattle and branding, and some accommodations provided for the horses which do not happen to be with the herd. Of course water is an indispensable requisite here, and, if possible, a location is secured adjacent to natural meadows where hay can be cut for the winter feeding of weak cows, the horses which may be kept up, and such other stock as can be taken care of in this way. These natural meadows are generally in the valleys or “ bottoms," as they are termed, of the streams, which, while perhaps showing no continuous flowing water during most of the year, are marked by a line of "water holes, where the water comes into view, and carry more or less water underground, which in favorable soil and situations rises to the surface through capillary attraction, in sufficient quantities to sustain a luxuriant growth of grass. There is very little water found beyond the beds of the streams, and springs, such as occur at frequent intervals in the East, are of rare occurrence in the grazing regions, except in the more mountainous portions.
Some additional land, beside that embraced in the home ranch, should be owned at other points on the range sought to be occupied, but where the number of cattle owned is small and the operations of the owner correspondingly restricted, the water and land of the home ranch is all that is generally sought to be acquired. Owners of large herds, whose cattle naturally graze over a wide expanse
of country, say from 25 to 100 miles, or even more, from one extreme to the other, have several ranches located at convenient points upon the range. Many of these, however, are only designed for temporary occupancy, and are simply provided with “dug-outs” for the