This research was conducted on an operation that usually combines cow/calf, stocker, and most recently sheep on diversified grass/legume pastures. It is a 200-acre farm with 150 acres of management-intensive grazing. Fifty acres of timber, ditches, and ponds are fenced from the grazing area. Most of the farm is divided into paddocks using a single electrified high tensile wire. This year as part of the grant, I established another wire at approximately 12” above ground around part of the perimeter of the farm. This was for sheep control. I have been practicing management-intensive grazing for six years.
The goal was to control non-desirable forbs, primarily common ragweed through the use of multi-species grazing.
I purchased several more ewes than I already owned, thinking I could conduct the experiment on a small scale. I had 24 ewes and 130 yearling heifers. I quickly learned that the proper sheep/cattle combination needs to be 50-50 by weight. So I confined the sheep and six of the heifers in a separate cell and continued the experiment. The reason I was forced to do this is that the cattle had to be rotated before the sheep had a chance to reduce the forbs to an equal degree that the cattle had grazed the remainder of the sward.
I grossly underestimated the labor. I used portable electric sheep netting. This was a labor burden to fold and unfold the nets and move them when I wanted to move the sheep and cattle to a fresh paddock. Since I had a smaller group in the research project I had to move the nets much more often than I had planned. When doing this in the future I will have the appropriate number of animals to match the permanent paddocks’ stocking rate and place a portable poly wire at a lower level to create a two-wire fence where there is now only one wire. I would do this for the time that they are in that paddock. I would still use nets, but increase the numbers of animals so as not to be required to use the nets as often.
The photographs show the results using before/after pictures. Also, the NRCS form “Determining Grassland Condition/Trend” is included as an attachment in this report. [Editor’s Note: For copies of the attachments mentioned in this report, please contact the NCR-SARE office at: email@example.com or 1-800-529-1342.]
When using only one species, cattle, the ragweed is not even touched nor the chicory nor the ironweed. Previously those forbs were controlled only by mechanical means. This year mechanical control was not performed.
As part of this discussion there is one factor that must be mentioned that played an important part, but it is difficult to determine to what degree. That was the continuing drought that began in 2002. It worsened in 2003.
One will notice on the form “Determining Grassland Condition/Trend” that on the “After” form the grassland condition did not score as high as the “Before” form. My expectations would have been the opposite in a normal rainfall year. No species of forage performed as well as in previous years and in 2003 there was some actual death loss to the grasses and even in the fall with cooler temperatures and 1” of rain the clovers did not return. Quite frankly, I’m not sure that grasshoppers did not aid the sheep in reducing the ironweed and the chicory. The ragweed did not grow as tall or as lush as before, however any control of the ragweed was due exclusively to the sheep. This may be an appropriate place to mention that even though the sheep would consume the above named forbs they would prefer clovers. If clovers existed under the ragweed canopy the sheep would devour the clovers before eating the ragweed.
One of the photos of the sheep grazing in ragweed is from 2002 when I first started the experiment on my own without the assistance of SARE. That was in August of 2002. It was hot and dry all summer, but 4” of rain were received on August 1. That helped the ragweed grow lush during August, a month of ragweed’s active growth period. Rain was not received in August 2003. Next summer, 2004, will be a better time to judge the efficacy of this years experiment – 2004 will show how much the seed crop of the non-desirable forbs was reduced in 2003.
Even though plagued with the effects of the drought much was learned. Research builds upon its previous results.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
Multi-species grazing works and is effective for the control of non-desirable forbs. A 50-50 distribution by weight is the most efficient for the best control of the grass, forbs and animals involved. Having enough animals to control forage in larger areas is essential to reduce the labor cost of moving nets. However, had there not been a drought the labor cost would not have been as great because there would have been more available forage, therefore, the paddock shifts would have been less often.
Another effect of the drought was the depletion of the water supply. The water system comes from one pond where a pump and pressure tank supplies water to all paddocks in the 200 acres. The pond became so shallow that the water that remained became stagnant and of such poor quality that by the end of October all livestock had to be removed from the farm. When rains replenish the water and forage supply the multi-species grazing will begin again and the research will continue.
Included in this report are flyers and informational pages from University of Missouri Extension Service announcing the field day. Also, contained are minutes from meetings of the Green Hills Farm Project announcing same. I had informed the local county newspaper of the field day. The editor was interested, but was unable to attend or send one of the reporters. Also, the meeting of the Green Hills Farm Project was to be held in conjunction with a NRCS field day. With the drought and most of the grass being brown we decided that there would be little for others than the very interested to observe, therefore an informational letter from NRCS was not disseminated. Twenty one people attended the demonstration on August 21, 2003.