Sustainable Integrated Range Livestock - Crop Production Systems

Final Report for EW95-008

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1995: $106,720.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $69,592.00
Region: Western
State: Nevada
Principal Investigator:
Ben Bruce
Department of Animal Biotechnology
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Project Information

Abstract:

Major portions of the crops in the Western and range states are grown for livestock consumption. Crop residues and crop industrial wastes provide important livestock feed resources and additional income to farmers and industries. There is clearly a high level of synergism and dependency between sustainable range livestock and crop production systems in the West. This project developed and implemented training programs in Western states in the following areas: pasture management, risk management crop aftermath grazing, economic management, and profitable livestock operations. The overall goal was to increase sustainability of Western ranches. Several key issues were addressed to increase sustainability. Among these are increased use of domestic pasture, the use of crop aftermath, and increasing or stabilizing profitability. To increase proper management and therefore sustainability of Western public ranges, operations must first be profitable. Once profits are established, time and money will be available to increase management practices that improve sustainability.

A subcontract with Golconda, NV sheep producer Tom Filbin has developed one of the most comprehensive sets of biological and economic data available on the grazing of alfalfa aftermath by sheep. This documents a detailed cost and return analysis for the producer grazing his sheep and for the farmer leasing of aftermath pasture for grazing. A project paper is published and available for distribution.

A management intensive grazing workshop was sponsored to make available technology in grazing systems and pasture management throughout Idaho and the West that centered around existing projects concerning grazing. This project trained people who work directly with producers, as well as producers in a variety of topics.

Jim Oltjen, California, has had several “back in the black” sessions and is beginning part two of that project. It entails using computers to determine management strategies for ranches that includes sustainability of operations as well as profitability. Several of these training sessions were held across California and continue to be available.

An interactive Windows95-based program, CowCost, has been developed to help individual ranchers evaluate different management options. The program allows for “what if” scenarios to be played out so that management decisions can be made with some anticipation of results. The program has been fully tested and is available free for download via the Internet.

Ron Torell has completed management classes for marketing of beef cattle. This emphasizes management techniques that minimize the unneeded use of pasture and feedstuffs by using marketing strategies. Ron has conducted several classes and presented material to extension educators and other professionals for use in the field. A second layer of this project involves risk management of retained ownership cattle through futures use, and classes are being given to educators and ranchers on futures use. This kind of planning allows for reduced rangeland impact by preplanning sale dates.

The grant sponsored two meetings jointly with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association on critical control points for profitability. This is a new national initiative for cattlemen, designed to enhance the viability of ranches. This ultimately led to sustainability in that no operation can contribute to sustainable agriculture without being profitable. The grant also sponsored a major planning meeting for Nevada Extension Educators on projects in the state that emphasize the sustainable use of rangelands and other agricultural aspects. Another meeting was held for Cooperative Extension field staff of California, Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada (COIN group) for training in marketing alternatives for livestock.

Two projects currently underway are “Integrating Forages to Reduce Costs and Improve Sustainability for Western Livestock Producers (Kochia and alfalfa studies)” and “Warm Season Grass Trials in Northern Nevada (bermudagrass and Old World bluestem trials).” Livestock ranches are a very important part of Western agriculture. Feed costs are often the largest part of the expenses in these operations. Many of the Western ranches depend on public lands for grazing, which are under increased scrutiny, particularly as related to grazing. Alternative grazing techniques would allow ranchers more flexibility in managing public grazing lands for sustainability as well as an opportunity to decrease feed costs.

This project co-sponsored a research project on the feasibility of using sheep grazing to create fuel breaks as a wildfire protection strategy at the wildland/urban interface. The project was conducted on Carson Hill in Carson City, NV, and received a tremendous amount of publicity for SARE and the University nationwide.

A major contribution of this project is the “Nevada Irrigated Pasture and Hay Meadow Manual.” Development of this manual was a major goal of this project. The manual is in press, and will be distributed to all Western SARE regional and state offices plus all NV extension and NRCS offices when received from the printer in January of 2000.

Project Objectives:

1. Through education programs, develop a cadre of individuals competent to teach sustainable integrated range livestock and crop production systems.

2. Provide education programs on range livestock and crop production systems that optimize water management and quality.

3. Provide education programs that identify livestock production systems compatible with wetlands and aquatic bird habitat management objectives.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

The information on crop aftermath is being distributed to sheep and other livestock producers through the dissemination of the report. Extension Educators are also using the material with their client groups. The management intensive grazing workshop was the primary method of distributing that information. Jim Oltjen has conducted and is currently conducting sessions to educate county extension personnel and others on the use of the back in the black software and concepts. The computer program CowCost has been distributed by floppy disk to over 100 producers and educators, and is now available free for download over the Internet. That file has been accessed many times. Ron Torell presented his educational material to the COIN group (a group of extension educators form the states of California, Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada) in January as well as the Nevada Cattlemen’s College in May. Currently schools are being offered to Extension Educators and ranchers with a “hands-on” approach to hedging livestock with the futures. Three separate meetings were held for Extension Educators, ranchers, and other leaders in the livestock industry. These individuals were from states all over the West. The meetings included a planning session on sustainable agriculture for Nevada educators, one for the COIN group (educators from California, Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada), and for individuals from all over the West with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Further dissemination when projects are completed will be through meetings, publications and the electronic media including email and web pages. The irrigated Pasture Handbook will be available for distribution in early 2000. A listing of these publications appears later in this text.

Educational/Informational Materials Produced

A. Listing by specific project

• Crop aftermath grazing by sheep (use of crop residues) — A publication oriented toward County Agents and Agricultural producers entitled “Crop Aftermath Grazing By Sheep,” authored by Tom Filbin, Ben Bruce and Hudson Glimp.

• Economics of Integrated Livestock and Farming Operations (“Back in the Black”, California)– SARE Grant report; “Economics of Integrated Livestock and Farming Operations: Enterprise Analysis and Regional Databases,” Jim Oltjen, Department of Animal Science University of California, Davis, CA 95616.

• Computer programs (“CowCost”) — The computer program is available free for download at http://www.ag.unr.edu/vetmed/Extension/Ext_Pubs.htm.

• Western Integrated Resource Management (“Critical Control Points for Profitable Beef Production”) — A copy of the report form the meetings entitled, “Western Integrated Resource Management: Critical Control Points and Planning for Profitable Beef Production” is available.

• Publications form combinations — A manual for irrigated pastures and meadows, “Me irrigated Pasture and Hay Meadow Handbook” published by University of Nevada Reno, Nevada Cooperative Extension will be available in 2000 and a handbook on beef production, “COIN, Sustainable Beef Production in the West,” 150 pages, will also be available in January of 2000.

B. Listing of publications that resulted from a combination of several projects. A web site is currently being developed at UNR for livestock extension and it will be used to disseminate the SARE material. The major reports listed here will be available for download.

Kettle, R., H. Glimp, J. Davison, J. Neufeld, B. Bruce, W. Riggs, B. Kvasnicka, R. Torell, S. Donaldson, and B. Wilson. 2000. The Irrigated Pasture and Hay Meadow Handbook. Published by University of Nevada Reno, Nevada Cooperative Extension (In Press).

Torell, R., L. B. Bruce, H. Glimp, W. Kvasnicka, W. Riggs, R. Kettle, P. Momont, D. ZoBell, B. Zollinger, D. Hansen, A. Peters Ruddel and M. Dickard. 2000. Sustainable Beef Production in the West. A pocket book produced by COIN (a coalition of Extension personnel in the states of Idaho, Oregon, California, and Nevada). 150 pages.

Bruce, L. B., R. C. Torell, and H. S. Hussein. 1999. Profit Prediction in Cow/Calf Operations: Part 1, Cow Cost Software Program. Journal of Production Agriculture, (accepted and in press).

Bruce, L. B., R. C. Torell, and H. S. Hussein. 1999. Profit Prediction in Cow/Calf Operations: Part 2, Influence of Major Management Practices. Journal of Production Agriculture, (accepted and in press).

Bruce, L. B., R. Torell, and W. Kvasnicka. 1999. Nutritional Management of Beef Cows in the Great Basin. Bulletin TB 99 01, University of Nevada Reno, Nevada Cooperative Extension. 81 pages.

Riggs, William W., Ron Torell, Ben Bruce, and Bill Kvasnicka. 1999. Economics and performance of Northeastern Nevada feeder cattle feedlot phase. Cattlemen’s Update Proceedings, pages 14- 17.

Riggs, William W., Ron Torell, Ben Bruce, and Bill Kvasnicka. 1999. Economics and performance of lightweight Northeastern Nevada calves grazing Texas wheat pasture: a marketing alternative case study. Cattlemen’s Update Proceedings, pages 10-13.

Torell, R. C., L. B. Bruce, and W. K. Kvasnicka. 1999. Promoting and organizing agricultural extension meetings. Journal of Extension. Vol. 37, No. 1, Pg. 1-3.

Bruce, L. B. 1998. Ile annual nutrient needs of beef cows. Cattlemen’s College Proceedings, pages 1-14.

Bruce, L. B., R. C. Torell, and W. Riggs. 1998. Alfalfa for Beef Cows. The Cattle Producer’s Library. Cow/Calf handbook monograph CL 319, pages 1-4.

Bruce, L. B., R. C. Torell, and W. Riggs. 1997. CowCost. A Windows95 computer program for evaluating costs and management practices for beef cattle operations. Was peer reviewed and tested by over 80 people. Has been adopted for use by Farm Credit System and Nevada State Bank, Elko.

Bruce, L. B. and R. E. Wilson. 1996. Photo plots for rangeland monitoring. In 1996 Cattlemen’s Update Proceedings, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, Reno, NV, SP 96-01.

Bruce, L. B. 1996. Developing management strategies for rangeland grazing. The Cattle Producer’s Library. Cow/Calf Handbook, monograph #CL-500.

Torell, R., and L. B. Bruce. 1996. Nutritional Management by Body Condition Score. Fact Sheet; University of Nevada Reno and Cooperative Extension.

Torell, R., L. B. Bruce, and G. Myer. 1996. What Is a Cow Worth? The Cattle Producer’s Library. Cow/Calf handbook monograph. CL-955.

Outcomes and impacts:

A. Develop and disseminate education programs that develops a cadre of individuals competent to teach sustainable integrated range livestock and crop production systems.

• Crop aftermath grazing by sheep (use of crop residues) — Cooperator and subcontractor Tom Filbin studied the use of alfalfa aftermath grazing for sheep. Alfalfa aftermath grazing is not common among ranchers in the West, but the aftermath is available. If relatively profitable and practical, aftermath grazing would lower the pressure on public grazing lands. Nine thousand feeder lambs were grazed on a large farm in Nevada during the fall to test the viability of aftermath grazing. Feeder lamb gain costs on the alfalfa aftermath were less than $.35 a pound, and produced a more desirable lean-to-fat ratio than high-energy feedlot rations at $.60 per pound of gain or higher. Furthermore, the alfalfa farmer received up to $10-$15 per acre from late fall grazing of alfalfa. Up to 50% of the grazed nutrients are returned to the land as manure. The experiment showed that fall aftermath grazing of alfalfa for sheep in the West is viable. A producer-oriented publication is available describing the project.

• Management Intensive Grazing Workshop (Intensive Grazing in Idaho) — A workshop was sponsored to make available technology in grazing systems and pasture management throughout Idaho and the West that centered around existing projects concerning grazing. This project trained people who work directly with producers, as well as producers in a variety of topics. Irrigated pasture grazing in the West has tremendous potential with more intensive pasture management. This would also help manage public lands by making producers less dependent on them. The general subject matter in the workshop was high intensity grazing, shorter duration grazing and planning for plant regrowth. The specific topics included resource evaluation and development forages appropriate for management intensive grazing, meeting nutritional needs of livestock from pastures, and matching forage to livestock resources, as well as many other associated topics.

• Economics of Integrated Livestock and Farming Operations (“Back in the Black”, California) –This is a course offered to ranchers and educators to learn how to assess the economic health of their business and determine profitable management decisions. Ranches that are profitable are far more likely to be aware of and employ techniques that allow environmental sustainability. Enterprise analysis and effects of strategic decisions made with the curriculum on ranch sustainability integrates cow-calf management with the economic conditions of the operation. Ranchers and educators are guided through the procedures in workshops so that they may continue to do the analysis in the future. Techniques and concepts are taught to Extension Educators so that they may use it in the field, as well as assist ranchers. The program is available through Jim Oltjen, Animal Management Systems Specialist, at University of California, Davis. A copy of the SARE grant report is available to those wishing to know more about the program.

• Computer programs (“CowCost”) — An interactive Windows95-based program has been developed to help individual ranchers implement different management options. The program allows for “what if” scenarios to be played out so that management decisions can be made with some anticipation of results. A three-tiered marketing program at Gund ranch generated some basic data for the computer model. This initial program is leading to the development of several sub-program modules to further enhance its capabilities. The program has been fully tested and is available free for download via the Internet at http://www.ag.unr.edu/vetmed/ Extension/Ext_Pubs.htm.

• Risk Management (Using the cattle futures market to provide a more stable income) — Risk management (the use of futures contract as well as options) of retained ownership cattle helps reduce pressure on rangelands by a structured planning for feeding of animals and stabilizing ranch income. Risk management is important to ensure participation in retained ownership, which is more risky to the rancher. Futures contracts will soon be offered on weaned calves and the use of futures for risk management will be extended. This kind of planning allows for reduced rangeland impact by preplanning sale dates. Ron Torell attended several risk management schools conducted by Cattle Fax and then presented that knowledge at several Cattlemen’s Colleges. The program has been further expanded to teach Extension Educators about the use of futures. Currently, risk management schools are being offered to ranchers and Extension Educators as hands-on experience. Everyone in the school is required to provide or purchase at least one steer to develop a “syndicate herd.” These cattle are placed in a retained ownership program, and everyone in the syndicate by group consensus decides the strategy on the use of the futures markets to hedge the cattle. Nearly 50 ranchers have so far participated in the program, and it is continually offered as requests are made.

• Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Faculty Development Assembly (a symposium for Nevada Extension Educators) — The grant sponsored two major planning meetings for Nevada Extension Educators on projects for the state emphasizing the sustainable use of rangelands and other agricultural aspects. The meetings provided up-to-date information on sustainable agricultural issues important to Nevada.

• Western Integrated Resource Management (“Critical Control Points for Profitable Beef Production”) — The grant sponsored two educational and planning meetings jointly with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) on critical control points for profitability. This is a new national initiative for cattleman, designed to enhance the viability of ranches. This will ultimately lead to sustainability in that no operation can contribute to sustainable agriculture without being profitable. The initiative has been continued by the NCBA and is leading toward new educational programs by the NCBA for cattle producers in the West. A copy of the report form the meetings entitled “Western Integrated Resource Management: Critical Control Points and Planning for Profitable Beef Production” is available.

• Cooperative Field Staff of California, Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada Training in Marketing Alternatives for Livestock (COIN group)– Different marketing techniques allow for more management flexibility, and consequently, better planning and use of the forage base. This helps in sustainability. A two-day short course for extension personnel from four states was supported by this SARE grant to train extension personnel in cattle marketing programs so that the information could be passed on to livestock producers.

• Integrating Forages to Reduce Costs and Improve Sustainability for Western Livestock Producers (Kochia and alfalfa studies) — Livestock ranches are a very important part of Western agriculture. Feed costs are often the largest part of the expenses in these operations. Many of the Western ranches depend on public lands for grazing, which are under increased scrutiny, particularly as related to grazing. Alternative grazing techniques would allow ranchers more flexibility in public grazing lands for sustainability, as well as an opportunity to decrease feed costs. Experiments are currently under way to study the use of forage kochia and Russian wild rye to determine die costs and effectiveness of planting these for winter grazing. Also being studied is the use of reduced bloat alfalfa to increase winter grazing potential. If successful, both of these trials will help provide alternative grazing schemes and increase management potential for public grazing lands.

• Warm Season Grass Trials in Northern Nevada (bermudagrass and Old World bluestem trials) — In another approach to providing alternative grazing opportunities for Western livestock producers, this trial’s objective is to find plants producing forage in the late summer. This is when the cool season grasses in the northern tier of the Western states drop off in their grazing value. These warm season grasses are normally more productive at the time the cool season grasses decrease. To determine the survivability and productiveness of some of these grasses in northern Nevada, plots will be established at several locations across the state and studied for productivity, time of productivity, and survivability.

• Creating Fire Breaks with Sheep Grazing — This project co-sponsored a research project on the feasibility of using sheep grazing to create fuel breaks as a wildfire protection strategy at the wildland/urban interface. The project was conducted on Carson Hill in Carson City, NV, and received a tremendous amount of publicity for SARE and the University nationwide. A summary of the results of this project is attached. Videotape is in preparation and will be distributed to interested SARE participants upon completion.

• Irrigated Pasture Manual — A major contribution of this is the “Nevada Irrigated Pasture and Hay meadow Manual.” Development of this manual was a major goal of this project. The manual is in press, and will be distributed to all Western SARE regional and state offices plus all NV extension and NRCS offices when received from the printer in January of 2000.

B. Education programs on range livestock and crop production optimizing water quality and
C. Education programs that identify livestock production systems compatible with wetlands and water bird management.

• Managing Wetland Communities for Livestock and Water Fowl — In Utah a project to educate professionals to help landowners develop grazing strategies to enhance livestock production, water quality, and waterfowl while maintaining native wetlands. This study showed that grazing wetland areas in alternate years significantly improved water bird habitat and bird use of the wetland areas.

• Jay Dow Wetlands — Preliminary results indicate that some shore bird species prefer to nest in pastures grazed by cow calf pairs since mother cows will not allow predators such as coyotes in the pasture. Studies at Jay Dow Wetlands indicate that nest damage is negligible by grazing cows, and that there was no difference in nest density between moderately grazed and ungrazed pasture. Two field days were conducted, with over 50 people in attendance.

• Irrigated Pasture at Rafter 7 Ranch — Studies at Rafter 7 Ranch indicate that irrigated pasture can be produced at optimum levels with approximately 60 percent of the water required for alfalfa production (36-40 inches per acre for pasture versus 60 inches per acre for alfalfa with flood irrigation). Improved pasture variety trials and alternative irrigated practice trials are in progress. Over 150 extension and NRCS professionals, and farmers and ranchers have visited the Rafter 7 Ranch in the last 3 years.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Programs

The development of the irrigated pasture and hay meadow handbook made us realize that the data on subjects such as pasture forage(s) mix, irrigation management, grazing strategies, and the economics of using irrigated pasture and hay meadows are minimal at best for the Western U.S. We clearly need more information and experience in these subject areas to make the best recommendations to our producers. We will be conducting additional research in these areas. Further, as a result of these weaknesses, we are publishing the handbook in looseleaf notebook form so we can update the subject matter areas as we develop new knowledge and experience.

Project management

For this type of project, Western SARE will clearly get its best returns on investment through multi-state and multi-disciplinary projects that will include several agencies and organizations. We must state, however, that our experience with project funding and management we somewhat frustrating. The flexibility of Western SARE is immediately lost when a state agreement or contract is implemented. The sub agreements/subcontracts need to change in funding allocations as project progresses, and other problems are time-consuming and may even prevent the Principal Investigators from providing the best results from the project.

Potential Contributions

When the project is complete, there will be a greater understanding of using of irrigated pasture as a supplement or an alternative to public rangelands in beef cattle and sheep production systems. A complete irrigated pasture management handbook will be available to educators and producers. Further guidelines will help to use crop residues and supplemental crops by livestock to enhance livestock productivity, crop land fertility, and farmer income. Opportunities for different grazing strategies and subsequent aid to management for profitability and enhancement of sustainability using public lands are emphasized in the training of professionals in the field of agriculture. When implemented by producers, sustainability of ranching operations will be enhanced A computer program that runs under Windows can be used interactively to play out various possible scenarios for each individual application. These potential benefits will enhance both sustainability and profitability of agriculture.

Impacts on Agricultural Professionals

Extension Educators and other professionals have been in session and will continue for years with various management programs (California Back in the Black and Nevada Marketing strategies, and others). They are now taking this information into the field. Three major publications and one computer program are available to educators in the field of beef production. These will continue to be used for a number of years to help operators to establish sustainable and profitable operations. Reactions from Farmers and Ranchers The programs on improving pastures and implementing, crop aftermath grazing will take some time. Reaction has been positive. The first year’s session on risk management included 10 ranchers. The program was popular and this years class enrollment is up to 25. This is a considerable number since to enroll in a class you must contribute at least one animal to a group managed feedlot pen. There is growing interest among farmers and ranchers as a result of this project in the areas of (1) irrigated pasture, (2) wetland grazing management, and (3) improved water management. A series of meetings similar to the risk management meetings will be held in the spring for irrigated pasture management.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.