Establishment of Cool Season Pasture in Nebraska Sandhills

Final Report for FNC94-059

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1994: $1,064.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $1,610.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Gregory Nollette
Diamond Lazy J Ranch
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Project Information


The Diamond Lazy J Ranch is a 1801 acre range land unit made up of 856 acres of deeded land and 845 acres of leased land. It is a family operation located one and one half miles south and one mile east of Nenzel, NE. It is a seed stock operation, raising registered Angus and Gelbvieh replacement heifers and yearling bulls. Most of the land is native grass, but there are several hundred acres that were farmed in the 1930’s and reseeded to cool season grass. These areas have been over grazed in a continuous grazing system and they currently do not produce to their capability. Prior to this grant we did not practice any sustainable practices.

The goal of this project was to develop cool season pastures for early spring grazing, late fall grazing, and possible forage harvesting. The key in this development was the incorporation of natural nitrogen fixing; non-bloating legumes to maintain the cool season pasture life and increase productivity in terms of quantity and quality.

The process began by visiting with our County Extension Agent, Bud Stolzenburg. He gave us information and shared with us his experiences with the development of cool season pastures. From their we visited with our area range conservationist, Jan Joseph and a neighboring area range conservationist, Dave Steffen.

The addition of cool season pastures would extend our normal grazing season and reduce the amount of harvested forages required. Alfalfa has been used as a harvested forage crop for years, but it creates bloat problems when cattle graze it. Birds foot trefoil is a nitrogen fixing legume that cattle can graze without bloat problems. It has not been recommended for our area in general. On the heavier soils that have been previously farmed, it was our challenge to establish and maintain birds foot trefoil on an old field.

With these thoughts in mind a test plot was established with the grant funds. The test plot was developed with three 2.5 acre replications of the same pasture mixes. One replication was left for control and two chemical treatments, 2 pts./acre of Grmaxone and 1 ½ qt./acre Roundup plus ammonium sulfide, were used for a no-till, power till drill application. Grmaxone suppressed grass growth and the plot browned immediately after application. Roundup killed everything that was growing in a few days.

There were seven different grass mixes that were planted four times across the three replications. The seven mixes were; 1-alfalfa, 2-birds foot trefoil, 3-brome/alfalfa, 4-brome/birds foot trefoil, 5-intermediate wheat/crested wheat/alfalfa, 6-intermediate wheat/crested wheat/birds foot trefoil, 7-new hi (quack grass x blue wheat grass).

We wanted to evaluate the different no till preparation methods, as well as the establishment of the different grass mixes. No till practices could reduce the mechanical preparation required in a conventional farming practice. Competition and erosion was a concern. With assistance from Bud the plot was planted August 15, 1994.

Bud Stolzenburg – Cherry County Extension Project leader
Dennis Bauer – KBR County Extension Assisted with Planting
Jan Joseph – NRCS Conservationist Data Analysis
Dave Steffen – NRCS Conservationist Reference

During the fall of 1994 there appeared to be no difference between the three replications. All mixes germinated and were beginning to grow. Grasshoppers were bad and we decided to spray the plot and surrounding area. The young, green seedling would be the hoppers first target. Then we had a sever hail storm in mid September. Hail stones were as large as baseballs and they broke out car windshields, house windows and beat the test plot to a pulp. The Roundup treatment looked the worst, but all plots appeared beat up enough that they all would have to be replanted.

The spring of 1995 was abnormally wet. We received over 22 inches of moisture for the growing season, compared to a normal of 17 inches for an entire year. To our surprise the plot survived the hail storm quite well and we decided not to replant. The summer months were hot and dry. No precipitation fell during the months of July and August and the grasshoppers returned. The plot was doing well and we decided not to spray. All grass mixes were established. The wheat grasses did very well and alfalfa and birds foot trefoil were established. The alfalfa was quicker to establish and was higher yielding. The birds foot trefoil did establish in all mixes and was able to go to seed this year. No yield data was taken. The field day was postponed until August 10. We wanted the people on the tour to see the stands. The leaves were dropped and the grasshopper damage would distort the data, so we did not collect individual plot data.

The best results by the fall of 1995 were seen in the Roundup replication. All mixes were easily identified. The other two replications had regrown back to brome and the planted mixes were difficult to see. Competition plays a big roll in reseeding. Surprisingly the birds foot trefoil was visible but it appears to be a strong competitor in all the grass mixes that were tested.

The results that we concluded from this test plot indicated that reseeding with a no till power till drill can be done. The chemical treatment that worked the best overall was Roundup. The chemical costs are comparable to mechanical costs, but the benefits of chemical is that you can save a year by not planting an annual crop; reduce the chances of erosion; and not dismantle the soil structure.

Birds foot trefoil did establish on a semi-arid sandy soil. We are not for certain that 1995 was a normal year. The additional rainfall may have played a major role in its establishment. We were satisfied enough to include it in a cool season seeding in the fall of 1995. If we are successful with this seeding it will provide us with an excellent quality spring forage to flush our cows prior to breeding.

A message that we would give to other ranchers, would be to evaluate their existing forages. The key factor is to reduce the number of months that they need to feed harvested forages. Research has indicated that reducing the requirements of harvested forages is one way of reducing feed costs, the biggest expense in a beef program. If they have a need for cool season pastures, we feel the information that we were able to collect would be of value to them.

A twilight tour was held on August 10, 1995 at the test plot. Bud Stolzenburg was on the program to discuss the test plot techniques and the results. There were 65 ranchers in attendance.


Participation Summary
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.