Central Arizona - Bar X Ranch | National Drought Mitigation Center
National Drought Mitigation Center

Central Arizona - Bar X Ranch

Mike and Diane Hemovich operate the Bar X Ranch and primarily use Tonto National Forest lands to sustain their operation. They manage 55,000 acres, utilizing Angus bulls with Hereford cows and a rotational grazing system to produce black baldy calves, which are sold as yearlings. Mike is also a former president of the Gila County Cattle Growers Association.

Inventory:


  • Average precipitation: Average of 22 inches per year. About half of the annual precipitation falls during summer monsoon season.
  • Range: Divided into 14 pastures with a north-south orientation. Includes rolling hills of pinyon pine, juniper, and gramma grasses in the south, and ponderosa pines and various grasses in the north. Elevation ranges from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
  • Additional feed sources: Mineral and protein blocks to supplement nutrition but not additional hay or forage.

Strategies for Preparing for Drought:


Short- and long-term planning

  • In his long-term plan, Hemovich focuses on drought. "A lot of people will say we’re always in drought in Arizona, so when we looked at setting up a long-range plan for the ranch, it was really focused on drought." This plan ensures the ranch has multiple sources of water and adequate water storage by drilling wells and building trick tanks. A trick tank captures precipitation which is stored in a covered tank to minimize evaporation and maintain water quality. They are useful alternative for watering cattle where drilling a well is not possible. In his short-term plan, Hemovich lays out the immediate actions he will take in response to drought conditions within a given year. "If a drought occurs at any time, we know where we’re going to get out of that pasture should [it] run out of drinking water for the cattle."

Rotational grazing

  • Hemovich moves his cattle through his 14 pastures during the year and from year to year. In one year, he grazes cattle on the east side of his ranch moving from south to north, and in the next, he migrates cattle south on the west side of the ranch.

Critical dates and target conditions:


  • January 1st – At the beginning of each year, public lands ranchers must work with their respective federal land management agency to develop the annual operating instructions (AOI) that dictate how an allotment will be grazed and managed. In early January, Hemovich compiles vegetation and precipitation data from the previous year and meets with a Forest Service range specialist to agree on AOI terms. "Come January 1, I know if we’ve had a good year production-wise on our grass or not and I can base what I’m going to do in [the upcoming] year [on that information]."
  • May 1 – Hemovich checks the 13 rain gauges on the ranch to determine how much precipitation fell during the winter (i.e. cumulative precipitation) from Nov. 1 to May 1. The rain gauge is a clear plastic pipe glued to a yardstick that is easy to read from horseback or an all-terrain vehicle. He then logs the readings into MyRAINge Log (myraingelog.arizona.edu).
  • September 15 – By mid-September, the growing season is winding down. Hemovich spends about 5 days monitoring vegetation production and composition. Forage conditions inform the schedule of grazing rotation.
  • November 1 – With the growing season complete, Hemovich checks the 13 rain gauges again to determine how much precipitation fell during the summer (May 1 to Nov. 1) and adds the readings to MyRAINge Log.

What is monitored and how:


  • Precipitation and forage: Hemovich relies on personal experience and monitoring tools to observe rangeland conditions. For example, during a drought in 2018, Hemovich determined that although his range looked healthy, it was lacking sufficient biomass to maintain the necessary level of productivity to support his cattle. To monitor drought conditions, he refers to the U.S. Drought Monitor (droughtmonitor.unl.edu) and the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI). He can also refer to the measurements he recorded on MyRAINge Log. Hemovich also monitors rangeland vegetation conditions such as ground cover, species frequency, and biomass. Precipitation and vegetation monitoring data can be correlated to predict forage production on Hemovich’s ranch.

Strategies during drought:


  • Change rotation schedule: Rotate cattle more frequently, which gives the grass time to recuperate, even with limited rainfall.
  • Track Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI): "I’m looking at the SPI because that gives me a good view as to what’s happening locally but it’s also the data that the Forest Service uses. If that SPI gets down to -1 they are going to be thinking of making some decisions on their part about my cattle."
  • Build water infrastructure: Hemovich has invested heavily in water infrastructure, including dirt tanks, trick tanks, pipelines, and storage tanks so that each pasture has multiple sources of water. "We’ve worked for 15 years on this ranch, and we’ve never had to haul water."
  • Low stocking rates and culling: While his grazing permit allows for more than 500 cattle, Hemovich stocks about 250 to lessen the impact on pastures. If necessary, he culls older or less productive cows.

Strategies for recovering from drought:


  • Build redundancy:. "…for every pasture that I use, I want another one in reserve." Most pastures receive at least a full year of rest, allowing for plant regrowth to occur when drought conditions ease.

Lessons Learned using plan during drought:


  • Be proactive: "You have to get ahead of the drought before the drought comes if you’re going to successfully survive that drought."
  • Plan for the hard times: "Don’t ranch right to the edge. Don’t push the envelope." Instead of planning for the full carrying capacity laid out in the grazing permit, ranch conservatively.

Some general recommendations:


  • Build partnerships: While public lands ranchers work closely with their federal land management agency, Hemovich believes collaborating with local organizations and agencies can increase the feasibility of various ranch projects for drought planning and rangeland integrity. "We could not afford…all of these infrastructure projects by ourselves. We’ve worked with Arizona Game and Fish because every water project we build helps the wildlife. The Arizona Department of Energy helped us change a lot of our wells from fossil fuel and generators to solar power [too]." Hemovich has also partnered with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension to create a guide for co-developing drought plans on public lands.

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