Progress report for FW22-398
- A major challenge for an organic grass-fed/finished operation is quality finishing pasture. Such a pasture must be better quality than one that supports a cow-calf herd. Historically, organic grass-fed/finished operations haven't been investigated; one (SW17-046) assessed dairy cattle performance. Our research question asks if a legume-grass (various legumes) pasture can be established under organic conditions (no herbicide, no commercial fertilizer), at three environmentally different locations, that produces a density comparable to nearby existing grass pastures.
- We propose seeding acreages of approximately 40, 10, and 10 acres to sainfoin-grasses, sainfoin-orchardgrass, and both sainfoin-orchardgrass and birdsfoot trefoil-orchardgrass. The first acreage has three sainfoin varieties mixed (Eski, Remont, Shoshone) nearby, the second supported Eski in the past, while the third is slightly acidic. If these pastures produce a density comparable to existing grass pastures, their establishment is beneficial to the environment and pasture finishing due to the presence of legumes (https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/skaa278.139).
- We will determine if the legume-grass seedings can be established at comparable densities as nearby existing grass pastures, or not. If they can, there are two major benefits. First, the legume contributes benefits to the soil and forage that are different from those of grass. Second, sainfoin and birdsfoot trefoil do not cause bloat in cattle, which makes them very useful for grazing in an organic grass-fed/finishing operation. These benefits are important for sustainability, the first because of its environmental contributions and the second because of its economic importance.
- Results will be disseminated to local networks by ranch tours and presentation.
- At two locations, can a sainfoin-grass pasture be established that is generally comparable in density to a nearby existing grass pasture?
- At a third location, can a sainfoin-grass pasture and a birdsfoot trefoil-grass pasture be established that is generally comparable in density to a nearby existing grass pasture?
- Disseminate the results from the above objectives to local networks.
- - Producer
- - Technical Advisor
- - Producer
- - Producer
The only goal of this proposal is to determine if it is possible to establish a cool season legume grass finishing pasture, at comparable density levels as nearby grass pastures, at three environmentally different locations: Stanford, Marion, and Kila. We break this goal into three objectives: planting such a pasture to various legume grass mixes, sampling the planted ground at three different times (early summer and early fall, 2022, and early summer, 2023) to obtain quantitative results, and presenting our results.
Description of project sites: Stanford is in central Montana, is dryland prairie, with grain, hay, and cattle operations that are generally medium to large by Montana standards. The project site has an elevation of 4073 feet, and average annual precipitation of 15.10 inches. Plant establishment is dependent on residual moisture from winter plus spring and summer rainfall. Soil pH is typically somewhat above 7. The Marion and Kila sites are in northwest Montana, in heavily timbered areas with valley meadow bottoms that support hay and pasture. The Marion site has an elevation of 3528 feet, and average annual precipitation of 18.78 inches. The planting at this site will be irrigated; no other sites will be irrigated. The Kila site has an elevation of 3183 feet, and average annual precipitation of 15.31 inches. The average maximum temperatures for Stanford, Kila, and Marion are 56.6, 55.9, and 54.5 degrees F. These temperatures plus the fact that Stanford is considerably windier implies that both evaporation and transpiration are greater than the other two sites. Both the Marion and Kila sites have year-round streams that are used for irrigation and cattle. Soil pH ranges from 6 to slightly above 7. Drought conditions prevailed throughout Montana in 2021, which resulted in all counties designated for disaster relief.
Planting: Ranchers at all locations will prepare the ground and plant seed with practices and equipment they have used for many years during April and May, 2022. The ground preparation and seeding is based on experiential knowledge, both personal and acquired from others, and has been judged successful for past plantings, provided there are no extreme weather events or other anomalies.
Sampling design and organization of results: Sampling with be done at three different times (early summer and early fall, 2022, and early summer, 2023), with a square quadrat having 40 inch sides, divided into 100 4 by 4 inch squares, with the sample locations at the 5 points of a "W" in the planted area, and sides of square quadrat oriented with the four directions. Sample locations will be semi-permanently marked so that samples at all three dates are taken at the same locations. Only presence in each 4 by 4 square will be recorded and then converted to a frequency percentage, and will also be divided by 11.11 (number of sq. ft. in a 40"x40" square) to obtain number of plants per square foot. Since only presence is recorded, this will lead to a conservative estimate of frequency and number/sq. ft. Rather than assign a certain value as a breakpoint between successful and unsuccessful, such as 21% in FNC09-753, we will provide three frequency categories: Poor (< 11%, 0-0.98 plants/sq. ft.), Fair (11-20%, 0.99-1.88 plants/sq. ft.), Good (>20%, at least 1.89 plants/sq. ft.). Good thus corresponds to Successful in FNC09-753. Expressing results as number of plants per square foot does permit statistical analysis by means of a t-test, which means that sample means can be tested against above interval endpoints. However, presenting results by means of bar graphs with descriptive captions (including statistical results) and legends is thought to be more useful for ranchers, so this along with a narrative will be a primary focus in tours, presentation, and final report. In addition, ranchers will report how they prepared the ground for seeding as well as the seeding rates they used along with seeding dates.
Education: At the Stanford site, dissemination of results (in October, 2023) will be by means of a tour of the project site, with guests provided a hard copy of the results, along with an oral presentation by the rancher-owner. At the Marion site, dissemination of results (in September, 2023) will be by means of a tour of the project site, with guests provided a hard copy of the results, along with an oral presentation by the rancher-owner. During November, 2023, at the Lake County Extension Office in Ronan, dissemination of results will include pictures and short videos taken at the times sampling occurred at Marion and Kila, along with presentation of results at all three locations, with guests provided a hard copy of the results. We want to reach as large of an audience for the tours and presentation as possible. To this end, we will notify and invite guests in several ways (see details in educational plan below).
Pleasant Valley Location, some irrigation
10 acres seeded to Shoshone sainfoin and Potomac orchardgrass at approximately 25 lbs/acre for sainfoin and 5 lbs/acre for orchardgrass
For 5 randomly chosen samples, there were 2.088 sainfoin plants per square foot on 8/17/22.
Kila Location, no irrigation
7 acres seeded to Shoshone sainfoin and Potomac orchardgrass at approximately 25 lbs/acre for sainfoin and 5 lbs/acre for orchardgrass
For 5 randomly chosen samples, there were 1.53 sainfoin plants per square foot on 8/16/22.
3 acres seeded to birdsfoot trefoil and Potomac orchardgrass at approximately 6 lbs/acre for birdsfoot trefoil and 5 lbs/acre for orchardgrass
For 5 randomly chosen samples, there were 1.854 birdsfoot trefoil plants per square foot on 8/17/22.
In 2022, planting objectives were met in the Pleasant Valley and Kila locations, but not the Stanford location. The Stanford location was so dry that the Stanford rancher, Jess Alger, decided not to plant because he believed, based on experience, that germination would be low, and of those seeds that did germinate, seedling survival would also be low. There is no irrigation at the Stanford location. Moisture levels at the Pleasant Valley and Kila locations were deemed acceptable, primarily due to spring rains. In Pleasant Valley, sampling at 5 randomly selected locations was done on 8/17/22, on approximately 10 acres that was seeded to Shoshone sainfoin and Potomac orchardgrass. The average number of sainfoin plants per square foot was 2.088. There was a small amount of irrigation available at this location. At the Kila location, sampling at 5 randomly selected locations on approximately 7 acres seeded to Shoshone sainfoin and Potomac orchardgrass was done on 8/16/22. The average number of sainfoin plants per square foot was 1.53. Also at the Kila location, sampling at 5 randomly selected locations on approximately 3 acres seeded to birdsfoot trefoil and Potomac orchardgrass was done on 8/17/22. The average number of birdsfoot trefoil plants per square foot was 1.854. These two acreages are adjacent. No irrigation was available at Kila.
We want to see what the second year of these plantings looks like before we make any recommendations. Right now, we would view the results as successful, but it's possible that these plantings will not overwinter well. And even if they do overwinter well, the forage production may not be substantial enough to be viewed as successful. We will be able to assess both of these points by the end of this summer. And finally, we intend to graze these pastures sometime in summer, so we will also have some visual, qualitative, results regarding grazing.
Education and Outreach
Education and outreach activities in our proposal were planned for late summer and fall of 2023, and early spring of 2024. So, we have not yet done these.
See above under education and outreach methods and analyses.
Education and Outreach Outcomes
There have not yet been any education and outreach activities. In our proposal, these were planned for late summer and fall of 2023, and early spring of 2024.