Australian Rangeland Society

Sarah McDonald  Email: smcdon28@myune.edu.au

Thanks to a travel grant from the Australian Rangeland Society, I was able to attend the 2016 International Rangelands Congress in July, held in Saskatoon, Canada. This was a 5-day conference, where around 500 delegates involved in range management from all over the world came together to share their knowledge and experiences. On the first day I gave a presentation on the findings of my PhD research project based in the semi-arid rangelands of NSW. Throughout the week I had the chance to meet and talk with a number of scientists and range managers involved in grazing studies in other countries, including Ethiopia, Canada, America, Argentina, Scotland and Mongolia, and listen to a wide variety of presentations related to rangeland management.

The third day of the conference was a field-trip day, and I headed north-east of Saskatoon where local range managers spoke to us about the management of crown land in Saskatchewan, native vegetation in Canada, conservation programs and the wetland systems, as well as a stop at a research station where we looked at the forage trials they are undertaking – primarily alfalfa, vetch and various grass species. This day ended at the Wanuskewin Heritage Park where we learnt of the first nations indigenous peoples history in the region, tried some bison meat and native Saskatoon berries, and were treated to a performance by three first nations dancers who explained to us their history and the importance of different dances to their culture.

Photo 1:  Looking at the forage trials at the Melfort research station on the field trip day of the conference, Saskatchewan, Canada

 

I had a free day after the conference and so met with a small group of Australians from the conference (also members of the ARS) and drove to a local sheep show and a sheep ranch (these are very rare in Canada!). The owners were very obliging and took us around their property, showing us a native prairie area, introducing us to their sheep guard dogs (pyrenees-cross breeds) and answering endless questions on their management and the Canadian sheep industry in general. It was good to get a first-hand insight into life on a Canadian ranch.

 

Photo 2:  Native prairie and wetlands on the sheep ranch in Saskatchewan, Canada

 

For a week after the conference I had arranged to meet with a couple of scientists in theUS. I spent three days being hosted by Richard Teague in Texas, where I visited ranches in northern Texas employing holistic grazing management. It was great to be able to speak with the holistic managers about their experiences, and the benefits and challenges they have experienced in implementing the holistic grazing systems, and Richard showed me some experimental trials he is conducting on these properties. I also presented my research to the Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Oklahoma during this time – they are a large private research institution that works closely with landholders in the surrounding regions, with state of the art facilities.

Photo: 3:  Looking at tall grass species on a holistically managed ranch in northern Texas (L-R: Intern student of the Noble Foundation; Sarah McDonald (ARS travel scholarship recipient), Professor Richard Teague (Texas A&M University), Jeff Goodwin (Noble foundation)

 

Photo 4:  Pasture on holistically managed property in northern Texas

 

From here, I went to Las Cruces, New Mexico, for three days, where I was hosted by Joel Brown. I gave another presentation for the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and discussed different research and management projects the organisation is currently involved in throughout the US. Whilst in Las Cruces I also had a tour of the Jornada research station, where I was introduced to a lot of the different native plant species and vegetation communities across the station – it is very dry, with little grass cover since degradation in the early 20th century, and the invasive Mesquite shrub across the whole area. Lastly, I visited the White Sands National Monument, which is an area of white sand dunes as a result of gypsum running off the surrounding mountains. Overall, the trip was an incredible experience and I cannot wait to visit Canada and the US again one day!

 

Photo 5:  Landscape of the Jornada research station, New Mexico

 

Photo 6:  Sand dune landscape of the Jornada research station.  The larger shrubs are Mesquite