Skip to main content

HPJ: An Ounce of Prevention

High Plains Journal:
An Ounce of Prevention

By Jennifer Theurer

*This article was taken directly from the High Plains Journal - November 30, 2020 Edition.

There's a 160-acre pasture up for sale nearby. As a diligent prospective buyer, a cruise around the property is warranted to check the condition of the grass and determine a source of water. Are there any signs of overgrazing? Is the water source reliable all year long?

A buyer would also want to know how many acres of that prime pasture ground is taken up by trees. The land area might measure 160 acres but if 60 acres includes invasive volunteer trees, that means less grass and less valuable ground water for cattle to use.

For simplicity, the example pasture used in this article will be rolling hills of grass similar to those in central Kansas or Oklahoma. It is understood that these conditions are not available in all of High Plains Journal's readership area. This is just and example.

If much of that grazing ground is covered by eastern redcedar trees, for example, can it still be honestly marketed as 160 acres?

Based on the information provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service at, 160 acres of grass should support 80 cow-calf pairs for 12 months. Acres of trees reduce that pasture's ability to adequately feed that many grazing cattle and will leave it over grazed and even more susceptible to eastern redcedars.

With each tree that takes root in a pasture, valuable grass is lost. Managing the number of cattle is vital to being able to use that pasture again in the future and prevent more trees from taking root. Many eastern redcedar studies point out that over grazing grasslands make it even easier for their seeds to germinate. Once that happens, the pasture's water source is at risk.

Brian Alexander, a noted proponent of managing grazing acres and the herbaceous trees that try to encroach upon them, witnessed creek beds that had been dry for decades bearing water after 2016's Anderson Creek Fire burned up the tree population in the pastures west of Medicine Lodge, Kansas.

With the passing of time, some of those waterways have made steps toward becoming bona fide springs again. Dry weather conditions may decrease the availability, but keeping the acres free of invasive trees increases the possibility of water flowing into the future.

"Cedar trees, to me, are a maintenance thing," Alexander said. "They're always going to be here, they're always going to be trying to take over."

Alexander said owners typically steer the tree eradication efforts with how much capital they are willing to invest in their property.

"I feel like burning is an excellent tool in a manager's toolbox to manage invasive herbaceous vegetation. There's a place for mechanical cutting or mulching as a cost-effective treatment," he said. "At the end of the day it comes down to the management goals for the property and how much capital ownership is willing to put in towards property maintenance and improvement."

Mechanically removing trees means an investment during the task. Removing trees by fire means an owner should expect to make an investment once the burning is done.

"I feel that it's pretty important to get the dead [trees] out that you can get to," Alexander said.

Removing the trees could mean one person operating a tractor with a loader or something more powerful.

"[My neighbors] still had some standing dead trees left [after the Anderson Creek Fire] so they got this big 300-foot piece of anchor chain and a couple of big dozers were dragging that around," he said. "That chain would just flatten all those trees it went past."

Equipment of choice aside, Alexander said leaving the dead trees standing after a burn can do more harm than good. Cattle can't graze what little grass grows beneath the dead branches and those bare branches are ideal for birds to perch on. Birds feed on the seeds produced by the female eastern redcedars and then tend to excrete where they perch. Planting more trees as they go and making a bigger mess.

"After a burning or a mechanical treatment," Alexander said, "the follow-up infestation can be much, much worse, if you don't stay on top of it."

A rancher can mechanically cut down or mulch eastern redcedar trees any time of year. You can also burn them any time of year if you can get the fire hot enough, Alexander said, and as long as there are no burn bans for your area.

Don't count on the cold of winter to stop the trees' development. They don't become dormant like other plants.

According to a 2013 study by Michael L. Wine and Jan M. H. Hendrickx, while grasses become dormant in freezing temperatures, eastern redcedars continue to use water even when the ground is frozen. That pasture may not be housing cattle this winter, but managing the cedar trees in it will keep them from using water resources that may be valuable if spring rains don't fall.

Managing eastern redcedar trees easily falls into the adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." In the instance of keeping trees from overtaking valuable grass in pastures, though, it could be said an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of beef.

Jennifer Theurer can be reached at 620-227-1858 or


*This article was taken directly from the High Plains Journal - November 30, 2020 Edition.