Certain desert plants as emergency stock feed

TitleCertain desert plants as emergency stock feed
Publication TypeGovernment Report
Year of Publication1918
AuthorsWooton E.O.
PublisherGovernment Printing Office
Keywordsemergency, forage, government publication, soapweed, sotol, stock feed
AbstractIt has been the practice for a long time in certain parts of the arid Southwest, mostly in what is known as the Big Bend region of southern Texas, to feed sotol to range stock during seasons when the usual range feed is scarce. This custom is probably one that originated in Mexico where this plant is used more or less extensively for human food, as well as for the production of an alcoholic beverage where, consequently, its qualities are well known. Hitherto, the usual method of preparing sotol for stock feed has been to cut the stem off at the ground and, with a machete or an axe, split open the head, which is formed of the enlarged leaf bases and the thickened top of the stem. This process exposes the soft tissue of the head to the animals, and either cattle or sheep may be expected to "do the rest." The past two seasons, 1916 and 1917, have been unusually dry in the whole of the arid Southwest from central Texas to the Pacific coast; and, in consequence, the normal crop of range feed did not grow. In many cases, farsighted stockmen sold off some of their animals or moved them to other places to adjust the number kept on their ranges to the amount of feed available. If present on their lands, many have successfully fed prickly pear to their animals. Notwithstanding the recognized necessity for a reduction in the numbers of animals upon the range, there were many men who, for one reason or another, were unable to sell or move their animals. Under such circumstances, the only possible alternatives were to feed the animals or let them die. The idea of feeding range stock is not new to most of the stockmen in western Texas and southern California. But for the men in southern New Mexico and southern Arizona, who are almost without exception cattlemen, the practice is largely a new one, though some have heard of using sotol as forage and some who have lived in Texas have practiced using sotol as feed. Sotol occurs only in a very small part of the country where feed was scarce this past year, but in much of this area, there’s a greater or lesser amount of other usable plant species. Stimulated by the patriotic desire to avoid all possible losses of meat animals, as well as probable serious financial loss, the more enterprising men began casting about for feed of one kind or another. Many of the men in Texas had already laid in a supply of cottonseed cake or meal. Some were able to buy milo maize, kafir corn or hay of some kind. But the supply of many of these feeds was below normal for the region because of the drought, all were abnormally expensive and transportation systems were greatly overworked, hence, the need to use all kinds of feed available on the ranges. It is difficult to determine just who should be credited with the idea of using certain plants, other than sotol, that grow abundantly in some places in the region. The practice seemsto have arisen independently in several places at about the same time, both in Arizona and in New Mexico. The first to suggest using any of these plants for feed, of which the present writer is aware, was made to him in 1914 by Mr. C.T. Turney of Mesilla Park, NM. Mr. Turney's idea was to use the tops of a species of yucca (Yucca elata), locally known as soap weed, for silage. Mr. Turney was cooperating with the United States Department of Agriculture on the Jornada Range Reserve near Las Cruces, NM, in handling more than 5,000 cattle under the range conditions of that region. It was here, in 1915, that the first controlled experiments in feeding chopped soap weed to range cattle were begun. Cutting up the tops with an ordinary silage cutter was found to be difficult, and the chopped material was not altogether satisfactory because the machine used was too light for the work. Mr. Turney asked a firm of manufacturers at El Paso, TX, for a heavier machine, which they proceeded to design and make. This machine has been in use for some time in southern New Mexico and is the first of a number since made and now in use. It’s heavy enough to cut up the stalks of the soap weed, and thus the discovery was made that the stalks are better feed than the tops.