Pecans in the trees and livestock on the ground is a common agricultural marriage in native pecan areas. For decades, combined income from this 'double' use of the land has been known to make crucial land payments, buy school clothes, and shoo the bad wolf from the back door. As with any successful marriage, concessions and compromises between the two enterprises are occasionally necessary.
Human nature is a major obstacle to successfully double cropping the land with pecans and livestock. The production of pecans and livestock on the same parcel of land is akin to serving two masters. My bible says that this cannot be done. Some feel that this passage also applies to two story pecan and livestock farming. I find that many agriculturists love livestock decidedly more than pecans or vice versa.
Consequently, the unfavored enterprise usually suffers from lack of proper attention and does not contribute positively to the joint venture. For example, cattlemen 'cowboys' are often unsuccessful pecan producers. As you might expect, livestock are usually more dear to them, consequently the pecan enterprise may suffer from lack of proper care and attention. It is not uncommon in the Oklahoma and Texas native pecan areas that cattle are somewhat more glamorous than pecans. This allure of cattle and the cowboy image is a product of our rich 'Western' American heritage. Even since the early days of the silver screen it has been glorious to be the cowboy that wins the favor of the prettiest girl in the movie.
Perhaps you vaguely remember the romantic movie scenes where Roy or Gene might gaze affectionately into her eyes, shake her hand, embrace his horse, and ride off into the sunset depicting an exciting life. Perhaps here in the native pecan 'world' we have not adequately romanticized our association with pecans. Yet, there are producers that can handle this delicate balance of devotion and provide appropriate and adequate attention to both livestock and pecans. These are the individuals that are consistent in profitable pecan production.
Native pecan grove floor management philosophy is important to obtaining the maximum net returns from the mix of pecan and livestock revenues. There is evidence that a clean grove floor free of vegetation will yield maximum nuts. Even though nut production may be decreased, the presence of vegetation in the grove can be beneficial by retarding soil erosion, facilitating movement of equipment through the grove during wet seasons and provision of forage for livestock. Some vegetation species such as bermudagrass can also provide a very favorable surface for mechanical nut harvest.
So is there a profitable trade-off to utilizing vegetation on the grove floor versus a totally clean floor? Conclusive data showing the potential loss of nut production due to the grazing of livestock in native groves is essentially non-existent. However, Dr. Ron Mitchell, Noble Research Institute Forage Specialist, has produced information showing the monetary benefits derived from grazing cattle in the grove. For two years he rotationally (cell) grazed with stocker steers a 335 acre mixed native grove/variety orchard from early April to mid October.
This pecan operation was located on the Noble Research Institute Red River Demonstration and Research Farm located near Burneyville. The trees received 350 lbs. per acre of 34-0-0 based on leaf tests applied split in March and June. No additional fertilizer was applied for the forage. The forage mix consisted of spring cool season species and summer warm season species. Rescuegrass, downy and Japanese bromes, and annual ryegrass constituted most of the cool season species while bermudagrass, sandbur, and crabgrass furnished a bulk of the warm season forage.
At $0.25 per lb. of gain, gross returns per acre from grazing the first year were $42.25 and $60.75 the second year. In addition the grazing eliminated the need for approximately three mechanical mowings the first year and two mowings the second year.
Livestock in the grove can create problems uncommon to groves with pecans only. Livestock can be a threat to grove floor tracking, soil compaction, and general grove sanitation. Soil compaction is more of a problem on heavier soils and is increased when livestock run in the grove throughout the year. Continuous access to the grove by livestock fosters the development of intensive areas of activity i.e., shading areas and water points.
Soil compaction is minimized with rotational grazing and the periodic movement of water and mineral points throughout the grove. In preparation for nut harvest, livestock should be removed from the grove in sufficient time to allowing drying of the chips and to perform necessary leveling and smoothing of the floor surface.
For better or for worse the union of pecans and livestock remains as a long standing tradition in native pecan areas.