Outside the Fire with Jeff Goodwin

This October we are featuring Mr. Jeff Goodwin, Range and Pasture Consultant Agricultural Division with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, OK.  Jeff is a Texas man, but more importantly he is a fire man who promotes the responsible and practical use of fire on rangelands.

How did you get introduced to fire?  I got introduced to fire as an undergraduate at Tarleton State goodwin-picUniversity’s Range and Ranch Management program. After graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Bill Pinchak and Dr. Jim Ansley at the Texas A&M Research Center in Vernon, Texas conducting research projects utilizing fire to manage landscapes in the Rolling Plains of Texas.  The majority of my experience with fire however, has come through the 15 years I spent as a rangeland management specialist with USDA-NRCS. They provided the training, experience, and opportunity to work with landowners to address rangeland resource concerns and meet their management objectives. Very often in a fire starved landscape, those rangeland management objectives were achieved and/or aided with the proper application of prescribed fire

Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come?  I have been trained my entire career to be a planner, to think about how our management will meet a specific goal and how that action will affect other resources.  However, to answer the question Yes I make plans well in advance, but I also take advantage of favorable conditions as they arise. To me that’s the beauty of a well written and designed prescribed fire plan. Many times we have a specific goal or objective we want to accomplish within a particular burn unit. The challenge and objective should be to write your burn plan specific enough to meet the objective yet the prescription parameters should be open enough so that you have the flexibility to take advantage of those favorable conditions as they arise. The worst thing you can do is to make the prescription parameters so tight that you that you 1) will never meet them and thus never get the burn implemented or 2) push yourself to the limits of your plan parameters and possibly open yourself to liability issues should trouble arise. 

What’s the hook for you on fire? The hook for me with fire is that I am a student of Ecology. For too many years we have looked at fire as a “tool” to manage rangelands. Fire is not a tool, it is an ecological process. A “tool” can be put back in the toolbox and/or replaced. We are currently seeing across the region what happens when we try to replace or use fire sparingly as a tool. I currently live in the middle of the Southern Great Plains, an area encompassing the majority of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Every square inch of rangeland in this region evolved under a fire regime with a fire return frequency, it was part of the fire dependent ecology of this region. As “we” began to manage those rangelands, 150 years ago we suppressed that ecological process. Many of the battles that we fight today in the field of rangeland management are directly related to that suppression, (i.e. woody brush encroachment, reduced rangeland productivity, etc.). So my hook is returning the ecological functionality of our rangeland resources while meeting management objectives of the land stewards that care for them.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? A successful fire in my opinion is one that meets the goal and objective of the burn unit. I am not a fan of burning just to burn. Many times we miss opportunities or do not meet the specific objectives of a fire just because we want to get it “done”. For instance, if my goal is to control or suppress Prickly Pear cactus, I will need a couple of things to ensure that outcome. I will need to choose a year or time when we have grown enough fine fuel to carry the fire to adequately meet that objective. I should choose prescription parameters that will effectively allow for a fire hot enough to meet those objectives. If we burn on a day that does not meet those parameters then we will likely not meet the original objective and we will have utilized our fine fuel. Now, I agree there are multiple benefits to getting fire back on the landscape. However, I am in the business of meeting landowner objectives and managing rangeland, to do that we need to be successful with our management applications and fire is no exception. Earlier I stated that Fire was an ecological process that needed to return to Texas rangelands, that is true. With that said, we need to be the ones that decide, when, where, how much and how long. This is where we take the science of rangeland management and turn it into and art.

Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without?  I do not have a specific person that I would not burn without, however I will not burn without speaking to my Lord and Savior. I pray before each burn that the lord provides his hand in safety over the crew, the clarity to make the right decision at the right time, and the gratitude for the responsibility to care for the rangeland resources he has provided us dominion over. Fire is a necessary process but can be very unforgiving if the proper amount of respect is not given. Safety is and will always be our number one priority on a burn.

Thank you Jeff!

Why I Ranch.

This October we are featuring Mr. James K. Rooter Brite, Jr. from Bowie, Texas.  Rooter is a father, rancher, conservationist, and my friend. The Brite Ranch has been a member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) for Rooter’s entire life. He has been a director of the TSCRA since 1999, and has served on their Agriculture and Research and Natural Resources and Environmental committees since 1994. He has served as a director of the Upper-Elm Red Soil and Water Conservation District since 1979. He has served on the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts board and on the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board. He represents the National Association of Conservation Districts on the National Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative steering committee. Additionally, he serves on the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Natural Resource and Environment Committee.

rooter1How did you get your start in ranching? I am a third
generation on this ranch.  I was born and raised on the ranch where my grandfather J.A. Brite purchased in 1929. I took over my dad’s cow herd in the mid-1960s and purchased the ranch from dad in 1974, when I began full-time management of the ranch with my wife, Lynda, and eventually my son, J.K.

How important is agriculture to your family?  Agriculture is about one third of my income.  You have to look at the cumulative value of everything you do on the land. Management decisions you make now will make a difference 30 years from now. It all adds up, whichever direction you go. At an early age I learned the cause and effect of different land management practices. These first-hand lessons I learned from the land stimulated my desire to learn more and be diversified in my management. I apply land management practices that are practical, using common sense. I don’t do things because they are what somebody else thinks might be good. I do things because they work on this land, and that’s what makes the difference.

What makes ranching in West Texas so unique?  The only constant is inconsistency  with the weather and markets. 

Do you feel like there is enough emphasis on agriculture in K-12 education?  There needs to be a much greater attention on ag, but it must be taught by qualified and experienced teachers.

Who did you learn the most from along the way?  By college age, I was intrigued by the land so I enrolled in Texas Christian University’s two-year Ranch Management program. TCU Professor Chip Merrill inspired me to try new things and not be afraid to try something different. I approached the resource management of the ranch using a short-term reactionary response to changing forage, production, and anticipated market condition. My long-term management is of a continuing upward trend in success of native forage. I feel like we can utilize our current management methods and maintain, or in areas of need, improve the productivity of this ranch in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

Thank you Rooter!

Are Cows Athletes? -Dr. Travis Mulliniks University of Tennessee

Dr. Travis Mulliniks, Assistant Professor in beef cattle nutrition and energy nutrition University of Tennessee, poses a very interesting question.

Read below for his incredible insight!!!!  Excellent work by Dr. Mulliniks!


Beef cattle in the United States graze a variety of unique environments, which differ in climate, topography, and forage quality and quantity. These differences are accentuated by dynamic and unpredictable weather patterns and thus impact forage production and subsequently increase variability in cow performance. Animals commonly react to these variable conditions by initiating adaptive responses to cope with extreme conditions such as stress (Stott, 1981).  To date, a tremendous amount of research has shown the benefit of adapted breeds of animals to certain environmental stressors.  However, production practices that modify the production environment with purchased or harvested feedstuffs can buffer the coping mechanisms that livestock express. Furthermore, these production practices may start leading to less desirable and stagnant responses to environmental and physiological stresses. 

Dr. Mark Petersen with the USDA-ARS Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory in Miles City, MT has preached that cows are athletes and should be managed accordingly. For most people, that seems like a crazy concept, but when you think about the amount of environmental pressure a cow is expected to perform under coupled with nutrient demands of lactation and reproduction, this concept becomes clearer. If athletes train to have an increased adaptive capacity and tolerance to stress, why don’t we manage cows in a similar methodology to increase their adaptive resilience to environmental stresses?  However, common livestock practices tend to manipulate livestock’s nutritional environment to a degree that may completely buffer their capacity to become more adaptive and ultimately less energy efficient.  In human fitness, an interesting aspect of skeletal muscle is its adaptability. If a muscle is stressed (within tolerable limits), it adapts and improves function.  Conversely, if a muscle receives less stress than it’s used to, it atrophies. Therefore, adaptation requires a systematic application of environmental stress that is sufficient enough to elicit an adaptation, but not so severe that a loss in production occurs.  If the stress is insufficient to overload the body, then no adaptation occurs, which is where a lot of our cow-herd management practices leads us.  So can we use a model for capacity adaptability and environmental stress to increase energy efficiency and longevity of the cow herd?  Is the “feed them to breed them” mentality decreasing efficiency and/or the cow’s inherent capacity to cope with environmental stress?


Adaptive capacity confers resilience to nutritional insults, given that livestock have the ability to modify their nutrient requirements with minimal losses of production.  Petersen et al. (2014) illustrated that cows experiencing a dynamic environment are coping with the change by altering nutrient requirements compared with those that are in relatively static surroundings. Conversely, cows managed in the more controlled situations or static environment have a decreased aptitude for energy utilization efficiency.  To illustrate this, Mulliniks et al. (2015) utilized datasets from research stations in New Mexico and Tennessee.   Although, nutritional supply during the breeding season is much greater in TN, pregnancy rates were significantly less (88 vs 96% in TN and NM; respectively) in TN than in the nutrient restricted environment of NM.  Input cost to achieve these production measures has to be taken into account in calculating efficiency differences.  Current annual cost of production in Tennessee is $800/cow; whereas New Mexico is roughly half at $440/cow.  In addition, Mayfield (2012) reports that longevity in the Tennessee herd was only 3.5 year, which is quite a bit lower than the 61% retention rate of the heifers remaining in the herd after 5 year of age (Mulliniks et al., 2013a).  Thus, illustrating short- and long-term effects of adaptive capacity on cow-herd productivity. 

So what happens if we take environmentally adapted heifers out of their dynamic environment and develop them in a static nutritional environment?   In New Mexico, Mulliniks et al. (2013a) showed the impact of programing animals to fit their given production environment. These researchers developed yearling beef heifers on native range receiving one of two protein supplements (low-rumen undegradable protein vs high-rumen undegradable protein) or a control set of heifers developed in a feedlot.  During the developmental treatment period, heifers developed in the feedlot had increased average daily gain (1.5 lb/d) from the initiation of treatments to the start of breeding compared with range-raised heifers consuming low-quality range with protein supplementation (0.58 lb/d).  Even with the low average daily gain until breeding, retention rate through 5 years of age for range-developed heifers fed a high-RUP supplement was 68% compared with 41% heifers fed a lower-RUP supplement and 42% for heifers developed in a feedlot (see Figure 1 below).  This study indicated the short- and long-term impact that developing heifers to fit their environment can have on biological and economic efficiency.


Figure 1. Retention rate of heifers grazing native dormant range with two types of protein supplementation (36RUP and 50RUP) or fed a growing diet in a drylot. Values shown in breeding yr 1 are heifer pregnancy rates.  Breeding years 2 through 4 are proportion of the original heifers treated that were remaining at end of breeding in yr 2, 3, and 4. Retention tended (*P > 0.08) to differ among treatments in breeding yr 1 and 2, but was greater for 50RUP than 36RUP and DRYLOT cows in breeding yr 3 and 4 (**P < 0.01). 36RUP = 36% CP cottonseed meal base supplement fed 3 d/wk supplying 36% RUP; 50RUP = 36% CP supplement fed 3×/wk supplying 50% RUP; DRYLOT = corn silage diet fed in drylot to gain 0.68 kg/d. Adapted from Mulliniks et al. (2013).


Flexible and opportunistic strategies are necessary for successful management in variable environments. Successful strategies have to be engrained in a clear understanding of the challenges facing the grazing animal and its natural abilities to meet and adapt to these challenges.  For example, Mulliniks et al. (2012) illustrated over a 6 year period that not all animals need to be fed to achieve a target body condition score, which allows for utilizing body storage as a nutrient source during periods of energy deficiency to maintain reproductive competence.  The cows from this study were offspring of cows that were managed in a low-input ($35 to 50 per cow per year in feed inputs) production system for multiple generations.  Thus, pre-planned management strategies to allow for body weight loss during periods of moderate feed restriction followed by nutrient realimentation during period of increase nutrient supply can be used to improve efficiency of energy utilization (Freetly et al., 2008).

The capacity for animals to cope with environmental changes depends on the degree of their metabolic flexibility (i.e., the phenotypic response to an environmental change).  Having a high metabolic flexibility may be significantly tied to the adaptability to dynamically changing nutrient supply levels.  Mulliniks et al. (2013b) illustrated the ability of livestock to modify metabolically in response to changes in nutrient availability was correlated to their timing of conception. Cows with elevated blood ketone concentrations, manifested from metabolic imbalance, prior to breeding season had a prolonged interval from calving to conception.  Therefore, ketone concentrations may be a useful indicator of adaptive capacity during metabolically challenging physiological periods.

Bottom Line

Livestock are expected to survive, grow, reproduce, and cope in dynamic and unpredictable weather patterns that create diverse environmental challenges or a combination of challenges.  However, if adaptive, flexible management is not utilized, static management in the face of a dynamic problem will not yield the most favorable long-term results.  With that being said, adaptive management is similar to the “bend but don’t break” philosophy.  You allow a defined amount of stress to elicit an increased capacity to respond positively to the stress.  With dynamic swings in environmental conditions, exploiting the natural ability of livestock to adapt in response to periods of nutrient imbalances may be an alternative strategy to manipulating the production environment. Implementing this approach may subsequently enhance adaptive capacity to environmental stresses, while increasing economic and biological efficiency. 


Freetly, H. C., J. A. Nienaber, and T. Brown-Brandl. 2008. Partitioning of energy in pregnant beef cows during nutritionally induced body weight fluctuation. J. Anim. Sci. 86:3703-77.

Mayfield, W. M. 2012. Evaluating the relationship between ultrasound-derived carcass characteristics and the production traits in Angus cattle. MS thesis. University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Mulliniks. J. T., A. G. Rius, M. A. Edwards, S. R. Edwards, J. D. Hobbs, and R. L. G. Nave. 2015. Improving efficiency of production in pasture- and range-based beef and dairy systems. J. Anim. Sci. 93:2609-2615.

Mulliniks, J. T., D. E. Hawkins, K. K. Kane, S. H. Cox, L. A. Torell, E. J. Scholljegerdes, and M. K. Petersen. 2013a. Metabolizable protein supply while grazing dormant winter forage during heifer development alters pregnancy and subsequent in-herd retention rate. J. Anim. Sci. 91:1409-1416.

Mulliniks, J. T., M. E. Kemp, R. L. Endecott, S. H. Cox, A. J. Roberts, R. C. Waterman, T. W. Geary, E. J. Scholljegerdes, and M. K. Petersen. 2013b. Does β-hydroxybutyrate concentration influence conception date in young postpartum range beef cows? J. Anim. Sci. 91:2902-2909.

Mulliniks, J. T., S. H. Cox, M. E. Kemp, R. L. Endecott, R. C. Waterman, D. M. VanLeeuwen, and M. K. Petersen. 2012. Relationship between body condition score at calving and reproductive performance in young postpartum cows grazing native range. J. Anim. Sci. 90:2811–2817.

Petersen, M. K., C. J. Mueller, J. T. Mulliniks, A. J. Roberts, T. DelCurto, and R. C. Waterman. 2014. Potential limitations of NRC in predicting energetic requirements of beef females with western U. S. grazing systems. J. Anim. Sci. 92:2800-2808.

Stott, G. H. 1981. What is animal stress and how is it measured? J. Anim. Sci. 52:150-153.




Meet a County Extension Agent – Michael Palmer Coleman County

Since working with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, I have been in awe of our County Extension Agents.  Most often their hours align with famer’s hours – sunrise to sunset (and if they are between those times, red bull drinks are always in their hands). They love their community, they love agriculture, and they love the people that embody both of those things.  They are the heartbeat of Texas agriculture.  What they do for their job, how they do their job, where they do their job absolutely amazes me.  That said, I wanted to learn more about our County Extension Agents – I wanted to learn why they do this job.

I have started a new blog series called “Meet a County Extension Agent” and I hope you enjoy getting to meet these incredible folks as much as I have.

Our October issue features Michael Palmer, Coleman County Extension Agent.  Mr. Palmer is a one-of-a-kind agent, and in my opinion he just gets it.  He is open-minded, willing to learn, willing to work hard, and makes everybody feel like they are contributing toward a bigger purpose.

Meet Mr. Michael Palmer:

Why did you become a County Extension Agent?  I have always had an interest in agriculture and have been involved in farming and livestock operations with my family since childhood.  I knew I wanted a career in agriculture and the opportunities that Extension offers only enhance the desire to be involved in agriculture.  I like the diversity that being a county Extension agent offers; things are always changing.

What are some concerns specific to agriculture in your county? Coleman County is a diverse county made up of range and pasture, as well as cultivated land.  Agriculture is a key industry here.  Many producers continually conduct brush control, as it is a never-ending issue with undesirable and invasive plants.  Predator control is another issue landowners face; specifically wild hogs.  Coleman County has a large number of sheep and goat producers who, along with the wildlife industry, face challenges with predation caused by coyotes and bobcats. Many farmers are currently facing challenges with low wheat prices and high input costs.  Alternative crops have been looked at but no silver bullet has been found.

What is the most rewarding part of your position? Being able to make a positive difference within the communities where I live and work; and make a difference in the relationships I develop with the people of the counties I have worked in the past 19 years.

What is the weirdest request you have ever received as a CEA and how did you solve it? It would be hard to narrow down to only one request, but I have had several requests over the years that were “odd”.  That’s what I like about being a county Extension agent; you never know what the day holds or what the questions will be.

If you could be anything else, what would you be? I don’t know that I would change what I do because a career as a county Extension agent is more of a lifestyle than a job.  I get to combine the work I do with my hobbies/interests and am always garnering knowledge that I’m able to apply to each.

Thank you Mr. Palmer for all you do!  We are grateful to have you!

Outside the Fire with Sam Jetton

Do you have any idea how blessed we are to have such incredible mentors of prescribed burning?  I believe what makes a good burner is one that never stops learning and always learns from every fire, every experience, every time.  I decided to showcase prescribed burn practitioners who are just AWESOME at what they do.  I have found that the best guys to burn with are the ones who do not care about the glory or the attention.  “Why I Burn” will showcase a prescribed burn practitioner who gets the job, doesn’t care about the credit, and has a true love and passion for prescribed burning.  These are their stories of fire.

This September we are talking with Sam Jetton.  Sam is the Vice President of the Upper Llanos Prescribed Burn Association.  He is a leader, teacher, and just flat out loves to burn.  Click here for more information on Sam’s prescribed burn association.

This is why Sam burns.

How did you get introduced to fire? I had attended several of Butch Taylor’s presentations on burning but was still not convinced of the efficacy of fire when I considered all the “hidden costs” such as time to grow fuel and time to recover. Folks who are making a living from the land can seldom afford the luxury of time and rain to grow fuel and then time and rain to re-grow it after a burn. We may see that as short sighted but when growing grass is your only source of income, doing without can just cost too much. What actually convinced me to burn was when Lewis Allen (longtime friend and neighbor) called me and asked me to assist on his burn. It was the invitation and personal experience with someone nearby that opened my eyes.

Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come? I “burn in my head” for years prior to attempting the actual burn. Sitting on a dozer clearing cedar gives me a lot of time to think. Right now I have four more burns planned in my head. It will take years to get them accomplished.

What’s the hook for you on fire? As I told you previously, my burning desire was born of frustration. After years of clearing and then re-clearing brush only to have it return seemingly faster than I could progress I needed help both in clearing and in preventing (or at least slowing) the return regrowth.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? The “pat” answer is one that meets the goals specified in the burn plan. That said I have always stated that ALL burns do some good. Many times we sacrifice some measure of success to achieve a safer burn. While these may not meet all the stated objectives they do meet some and increased safety should always take precedence.

Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without? Well now, nobody in our association has been able to attend every one of my burns BUT I always feel safer and more reassured when I have Lewis Allen for advice, my wife, Robin, as well as Claudia Parker and Michelle Brangenburg for observation and back side contain, and Tony Hall for suppression. There are many others that perform major roles in my burns but these are my rock steady crew.

Thank you Sam!

Why I Ranch.

I have decided to dedicate a series on West Texas ranchers called “Why I Ranch.”  Each month I will highlight a rancher in West Texas and ask them to share their story about the ranch life.

This September, Mr. John Treadwell will share with us his story on “Why I Ranch”.

John ranches in Tom Green, Menard, and Schleicher counties.  John is the recipient of the 2006 Statewide Lone Star Land Steward and Leopold Conservation awards.  John has a mix of sheep and cattle on his operation and holds resource stewardship at the top of his priorities.

How did you get your start in ranching? I grew up as an unpaid cowboy during the peak of the screwworm infestation. Getting rid of those flies is one thing the Government did correctly. Later, after college and the Navy, I got a lot of pleasure from gardening, producing food for my family and neighbors when I lived in Dallas and gardening was also a stress reducer from my corporate job. Years later, after I sold my business, my son Brian asked me to assist him in his guiding/outfitting hunting business based on the family’s 4000 acre ranch in West Texas. We soon outgrew the home ranch and needed to lease other properties for hunting, but were appalled at the condition of the available ranches. We decided to look for a block of land that would enable us to manage the deer, quail and turkey populations to ensure sustainable and controllable numbers for our hunting operation. He eventually found two adjoining ranching properties for sale and we had 8000 acres in Eastern Menard County. Hunting alone would not float the note so we added cattle and began dividing the existing pastures to apply our version of high intensity/short duration rotation system so that we could bank grazing and would not need to feed our stock during the winter.

How important is agriculture to your family?  I think my family is more aware of what goes into the food we consume, and are appreciative of the work we go to in order to produce it. But, a lot of gardening is not fun and the same goes for chickens, sheep and cattle. So often there is recognition but not commitment.

What makes ranching in West Texas so unique?  West Texas ranching causes one to be cautious in his planning because nature is so unpredictable and we are so near the desert as far as rainfall’s reliability. We need to be continuously grateful for what we receive because it could easily be worse.

Do you feel like there is enough emphasis on agriculture in K-12 education?  I think that some exposure to plant and animal growth and behavior could be part of Biology but since no university has a degree in sustainable ag or organic ag, where would the instructors come from?

Who did you learn the most from along the way?  I’d have to credit Rodale, Allan Savory, Walt Davis and Jimmy Powell and of course Holistic Ranch Management. I observed my Grandfather and Father as being the opposite but still influential. Make a plan, observe, and re-plan.

Thank you John!


Prussic Acid Misconceptions – Dr. Ted McCollum

Dr. Ted McCollum, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, explains that prussic/cyanide levels when there is a frost/freeze event is one of the most confusing and misleading statements in most extension and popular press articles.  Here’s the skinny on the actual facts brought to you by thee Dr. McCollum:

“The cyanide(prussic acid) in plants does not exist in a free, liberated state.  The cyanide is part of a larger molecule called a cyanogenic glycoside. In members of the sorghum family this compound is Dhurrin; in chokecherries, wild cherries, mountain mahogany, among others, and the kernels of almonds, peaches,  apricots and apples this is Amygdalin (laetrile) and Prunasin; in cassava, white clover, flax and lima beans this is Linamarin.  These compounds themselves are harmless; the breakdown and liberation of the cyanide is the insult.  

A hand grenade represents a “potential” explosion.  As long as the pin is in place and the lever (trigger) has not been released that “potential” is not realized; the grenade is harmless.  But when the pin is pulled and the trigger is released and the fuse activates and catalyzes the explosion, the potential is realized and potential harm ensues.  The cyanogenic glycoside is like the hand grenade.   As long as the cyanogenic glycoside remains intact there is only the potential for toxicity; this is sometimes referred to as “cyanide potential”.  In order for the potential to be realized, something has to trigger the enzymatic action to liberate the cyanide molecule from the glycoside.   The beta-glucosidase enzymes that liberate cyanide from the parent glycoside are found in the plant tissue. In the intact plant tissue, the cyanogenic glycosides are found in vacuoles while the enzymes are found in the cytosol.  In order for the cyanide to be released the plant tissue must be damaged so that the glycosides and the enzymes come together. The enzymes are also produced by ruminal microbes.  Cutting, crimping, mastication, trampling, hail damage, and frost/freeze disrupt cellular structure and allow the glycosides and enzymes to mix and liberate cyanide from the parent glycoside.  Introduction into the ruminal environment presents the glycosides to the microbial enzymes and releases cyanide. 

So back to the grenade, the cyanogenic glycoside is the grenade and represents “potential toxicity”.  The damage to the plant tissue or introduction to the ruminal environment pulls the pin and releases the trigger.  The subsequent mixing of the glycoside with the enzymes activates the fuse and catalyzes the release of cyanide and a possibly toxic insult.  

Back to the freeze/frost — 

First, freeze/frost causes tissue damage and will indeed result in an increase in the “free” cyanide present in plant tissue (In fact, when analyzing cyanide in the lab, the forage samples are first frozen in order to release all of the cyanide; simply analyzing cyanide on fresh samples only indicates what is “free” in the tissue).  But remember, when the animal bit, chewed and swallowed that same forage into the ruminal environment just hours before the freeze or frost, the same cascade of events occurred as when the standing forage was exposed freeze/frost a few hours later.  The potential for toxicity was always there, different events pulled the pin and released the trigger. So, in order for a freeze/frost to increase toxicity for ruminants (more later) as is stated in the many pubs, the freeze/frost would have to actually stimulate dhurrin (cyanogenic glycoside) synthesis by the plant.  In other words, the freeze/frost would have to stimulate the plant to make more hand grenades. I have searched for research to prove that freeze/frost increases dhurrin synthesis (specifically dhurrin since that is the glycoside in sorghums, sudans, johnsongrass) in the plant.  It is not there.  I recently contacted Dr. Ros Gleadow from Australia who works in the area of cyanogenensis in plants and her response to my query was quote “Dhurrin is not synthesised in response to frost.” 

So, the plant does not make more hand grenades in response to frost/freeze which goes back to Dr. Halliburton’s comment which I have reworded with my interpretation of his meaning – The potential toxicity after the freeze was the same as the day before the freeze.

I think some of the misinterpretation and source of information in the pubs stems from studies of long ago where the researchers collected plant samples before and after a freeze and analyzed the cyanide content of the forage tissue.  However, they did not freeze the samples before they analyzed them.  So, they did not release all of the cyanide before analyses.  They found that the amount of “Free” cyanide was higher after the freeze.  This is indeed true. BUT, they did not measure “cyanide potential” which is the real concern and as far as I have discerned, if they had measured cyanide potential they would have found no difference before and after the freeze.

We typically deal with ruminants in these grazing forage situations.  Ruminants are typically more susceptible to cyanide toxicity because (1) ruminal microbial beta-glucosidase activity, (2) ruminal pH near neutrality – the optimum pH for beta-glucosidase activity.

What about nonruminants?  Typically less susceptible to cyanide toxicity (1) no microbial activity in the first stage of digestion (2) acid pH in first stage of digestion slows/eliminates beta-glucosidase activity in ingested forages.  So when the nonruminant is ingesting forage with “cyanide potential”, they have some protection because the enzymatic activities that release cyanide are suppressed or absent.

BUT, following a freeze/frost, the possibility for toxicity in a nonruminant may increase.  The frost or freeze has liberated the cyanide and the animal will be ingesting free cyanide.  The other “protective” mechanisms – no microbial digestion, acid pH in stomach – have been circumvented.”


Texas Section Society for Range Management Youth Range Workshop

From June 26th – July 1st, I had the privilege of meeting some pretty cool kids.  Not just any kids…RANGE KIDS!  At Range Camp, 25 youth from 8th-12th grade learned about prescribed burning, stocking rates, grazing management, brush control, public speaking, and most importantly, STEWARDSHIP.  This fine group of kids blew me away with the yes ma’ams, no ma’ams, and a special creativity and magic that only kids possess.  Range Camp is always hectic, always moving, and with very little sleep so it’s not something I get super excited for, but this year’s kids went above and beyond to make it a memorable experience for the directors, TSSRM leaders, and for one another. I am pleased to announce that even though our society and this generation is driven by technology, social media, name-brands, and a urbanized way of life, for one week at Range  Camp, the world paused and we remembered that our job is to be stewards.  Stewards of the land and stewards for the youth.

Virgil Epperson and Franklin Buchholz…you two were my favorites.  Remember what you learned.  And definitely remember how to carry a drip torch.


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More than just wildfire

Today, as the grass grows, the days get warmer, and we begin summer my mind drifts to what is to come.  I promise I am not a negative or pessimistic person. However, I do believe that we as land stewards, managers
of all things range, we have an obligation to be proactive in what is sure to be an impressive fire year.  Three years ago on June 28th, the Yarnell Hill Fire wreaked havoc and heartache on the west side of highway 89 in Arizona.  Fast-forward to June 8th, 2016 the Tenderfoot Fire burned over 4,000 acres on the east side of the Yarnell Hill Fire scar on the opposite side of highway 89 forcing another evacuation of Yarnell, Arizona.  As Texans, you are probably wondering what the hell does this have to do with us.  Easy…it could happen to us.  Impressive spring precipitation was a blessing, but fast-forward a couple of weeks and our outlook will change tremendously.

As we ramp up for summer prescribed burns and wildfires.  Please, take the time to read “Honor the Fallen – The Big Lie” by Mark Smith.  Whether you belong to an agency, burn association, or you just like to carry a torch, please take a moment to honor and learn from those making the same high-risk decisions you make everyday.

On another note, Dad (in the feature picture) has decided to keep fighting the good fight this summer and is on a Type 2 IMT in Idaho, Jake, my brother, helps out when needed for Type 2 crews and engines in Arizona.

These are the men that I honor.  They are apart of our fire community…even in Texas.


Dormant Season Burns Paired with Abundant Spring Rainfall – Did you Do that?

If you were one of the lucky landowners that burned during early/late winter, I am sure you are pleasantly pleased with the post-fire results you are seeing from these spring/early summer rains! The opportunities that fire reveals are not only inspiring, but make for gorgeous and productive rangelands! Hats off to you landowners that light the match out of faith and reap the blessings and bounty soon after!01b5ccef040adeb235a2c902f8f9e9b834c4b3f8e5 01cdebb89768087e1dfa187df49e6f0a778ee9e76e 01fee7e543eac40f34a2654e497449c433b0827477 016eda4e5cc20112f561dcc1163235fbff6508faba 0105a2e1b4f36ec2abd022fcd8b4b320d86f8567b7