Alamosa County, cattle ranch

Goals/Strategic Objectives

1. Improve irrigation efficiency; fully utilize available ditch water and avoid excess watering.
2. Improve soil water holding capacity to reduce irrigation requirements and improve drought resilience.
3. Develop a backup plan for watering livestock if stock well flow is insufficient.

Inventory

• Total acreage: 210+- acres, 150 -160 acres are currently irrigable, solely by flood
irrigation
• Average Precipitation: 7.4 inches
• Other water sources for:
• Irrigation: ditch runs April 1 to November 1
• Summer curtailment some years
• Livestock: a shared artesian flow stock well typically provides 750-1500 gallons/day
• Annual hay harvest on 35 acres; one cutting of mixed grass hay; all hay is sold off-site
• Rotational grazing three times per season on 142 acres, once per season a 13-acre wildlife
habitat area, and once per season on 55 acres (including hay ground and adjoining non-
irrigated pasture)
• Grazing lease for bred heifers runs from May through December; cattle are taken off
January-April
• Annual production on the 35 acres of hay land is approximately 1 T/ac

Potential future conditions

The upper Rio Grande watershed has been in extended drought for 20 years, and surface water is over appropriated. Climate change could cause a local increase in year-round temperatures and a decrease in yearly precipitation with more rapid springtime runoff of the snowpack. These changes would reduce available water for forage, hay crops and livestock.

Strategies for increasing drought preparedness

1. Ongoing during irrigation season, work with ditch company to keep main ditch clear of
obstructions, and to deliver 8 cfs of water for at least 4 consecutive days once a month.
2. Annually, be involved in ditch company decisions to improve river diversion, reduce ditch
water losses and delivery inefficiencies, and keep current with maintenance to avoid
interruptions.
3. Twice a year, urge ditch board to make a drought management plan, to be completed by 2025.

Timeline

1. 2023: research solar- or wind-powered pump installations for the stock well.
2. 2023-4: Test soil water holding capacity, compaction, infiltration rates, nutrients, and %OM. 3. 2023-2025: deep chisel compacted and sodic ground.
4. 2023-2026: complete replacement of all old, leaky and undersized irrigation structures.
5. 2023 and yearly: each spring, use a corrugator to speed flood irrigation of slow running
cells.
6. 2023 and yearly: interseed 10+ acres. Include brassicas, legumes, and drought-resistant
perennials.
7. 2025 or earlier: re-install municipal water tap at SE corner of property (Curtis and
Trinchera Lanes).
8. 2025: decide whether to do more land levelling and/or adding a side roll sprinkler.
9. 2026-2027: repeat above soil tests to document improvements conducive to water conservation.
10. 2027: decide if the existing stock well needs to be re-drilled.

Critical decision-making dates

1. Yearly, no later than April 1, use SNOTEL reports, ditch company predictions and/or other
indicators to determine if ditch water delivery will be <90% of average. If so, the carrying
capacity for that season will be the predicted percent of average water delivery multiplied
by 50 AU.* For example, if the snowpack on April 1 is 80% of average, then the grazing
season will begin with <= 40 AU.
2. Yearly, no later than July 1, if forage in the south half of the quarter section has not
adequately recovered from the first grazing, implement a cattle herd reduction to begin no
later than July 21 and/or graze hay land instead of harvesting hay. Plan on 1000 lbs. of hay
land forage/AU/month.
3. Yearly, no later than September 15, evaluate forage to determine if AU should be reduced, or
grazing ended before January 1. Reassess this monthly through the fall.

Strategies for managing during drought

1. Implement a drought-adjusted grazing duration and/or carrying capacity*. Refer to “Critical
Decision-making Dates and Target Conditions”.
Options:
• Reduce the number of cattle grazing during the May – December timeframe.
• Reduce the duration of grazing (move cattle off before December).
2. If irrigation water is available, but for reduced time periods, reduce acreage that gets
irrigated:
• Only irrigate fields where water runs quickly; don’t irrigate slower fields, e.g.
irrigate the north half of the quarter section, not the south half.
• In fields with border irrigation, run water in every other cell. Reverse the pattern
with the next water cycle.
• Withhold water from the slough in the wildlife refuge.
3. Delay or omit the annual hay harvest to provide more forage for grazing. See “Critical
Decision making Dates and Target Conditions”.
4. When the artesian stock well goes dry, these are the short-term solutions to provide stock
water:
• Use a hose to siphon well water to a temporary tank on lower ground.
• Haul water to the existing stock tank or a temporary tank once or twice a day.
• Move cattle daily to a tank supplied by municipal tap water (currently disconnected)*.

* For an average water year, carrying capacity is 50-60 animal units (AU) for 8 months (May-
December). For an above average year, carrying capacity may be 60-75 AU.

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