Perennial Forage Kochia for Improved Sustainability of Grass-Dominated Ecosystems

Final Report for SW04-060

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $149,503.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Dale Zobel
ADVS Dept., Utah State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

Forage kochia has the ability to produce well in arid conditions and can meet animal requirements for protein. For these reasons, winter feed costs can be reduced by including it as a component of rangeland grazing. When combined with crested wheatgrass, which meets requirements for energy, it can significantly increase carrying capacity. Precipitation was lower than average three of the four years in which the study took place (Utah Division of Water Resources). Forage production was at or lower than average for control pastures but in pastures with kochia, exceeded average normal expected production.
Cattle on improved ranges with forage kochia had a greater increase in body condition score (BCS) than cattle on unimproved rangelands comprised mostly of crested wheatgrass. This is probably a result of the much higher crude protein (CP) contained in forage kochia as compared to the grass. Forage kochia also had equivalent digestibility, but more favorable fiber values (ADF and NDF), in comparison with the grass. Probably most noteworthy from this study is a nearly six-fold increase in forage production (which translates to increased carrying capacity) in the forage kochia pastures. Overall, results indicate that planting forage kochia to improve winter rangelands increases sustainability of livestock production in the Western United States.

Project Objectives:

The greatest limitation for acceptance of forage kochia by livestock producers is our limited knowledge of its value as a forage resource. Thus, our research objective was to evaluate livestock nutrient intake and performance responses to rangeland with or without forage kochia.
Our extension objective was to integrate this knowledge with previous knowledge about forage kochia to impact clientele knowledge, awareness, attitudes and skills. In this way, we addressed the Western SARE program goal of “addressing weak links or information gaps in whole systems and integrating the findings back into that system by outcome-impact educational outreach."

Introduction:

A serious problem on arid rangelands of the Intermountain West is the ongoing replacement of perennial shrub-dominated vegetation communities with monocultures of invasive annuals, particularly cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Issues associated with this conversion include:
• Reduced soil stability, resulting in increased erosion, leading to permanent reduction in site potential.
• Increased wildfire hazard because of the annual accumulation of fine fuel when the cheatgrass dies. This further exacerbates the loss of perennial vegetation. It also increases risk to rural communities because of the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires near these communities.
• Reduced habitat quality for wildlife.
• Reduced forage value for livestock.
Forage or prostrate kochia (Kochia prostrata) is native to the heavily grazed rangeland regions of Central Eurasia (Harrison et al., 2000). It is a long-lived, perennial, semi-evergreen half-shrub that is well adapted to Western U.S. rangelands, including those high in salt and alkali (Francois, 1976; Davis and Welch, 1985; McArthur and Sanderson, 1996). Forage kochia is different from the weedy annual kochia (Kochia scoparia) because of its perenniality, lack of invasiveness into perennial plant communities, and lack of nitrate or oxalate toxicity (Waldron et al., 2001a; Davis, 1979). Harrison et al. (2000) conducted a review of forage kochia’s adaptation, potential uses in the U.S., and potential weediness. They concluded that it does not invade perennial plant communities, but by competing against annual species it can be used to stabilize disturbed sites. This is because it out-competes many noxious annual weeds including cheatgrass (Fig. 1) and halogeton (Halogeton glomerata) (Clements et al., 1997; Harrison et al., 2000; Monaco et al., 2003). Once it has replaced cheatgrass, perennial native species can re-establish in the stand of forage kochia, thus leading to diverse, stable perennial plant communities (Waldron et al. 2001a).
Forage kochia has proved to be effective in greenstrips to stop wildfires (Fig. 2) on western rangelands (Harrison et al., 2002). Forage kochia is often the only plant that can be established in areas dominated by cheatgrass and repeated wildfires. Its active summer growth and ability to create zones with reduced cheatgrass contributes to its ability to slow or stop wildfires.
Forage kochia is an important fall and winter forage for sheep, cattle, horses, camels, and wildlife in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (Waldron et al., 2001b; Waldron et al., 2003). Preliminary research and anecdotal evidence in the U.S. has shown that grazing forage kochia on western rangelands may reduce winter feeding costs and increase the sustainability of livestock production in rural areas (Koch, 2002; Zobell et al., 2003). This appears to be due to its potential to produce forage in arid conditions with crude protein levels that exceed ruminant nutrient requirements during the critical fall and winter months (Davis, 1979; Davis and Welch, 1985).

A major challenge for beef producers in the Western United States is high winter feed costs (DelCurto and Olson 2000 and Hathaway 2003). Maximizing utilization of low-quality forage while minimizing use of expensive supplements is one way to reduce feed costs. Arthun et al. (1992) reported that a way to do this is include forbs and shrubs in low-quality forage-based diets. Improving winter grazing is important economically because it can reduce costs associated with feeding stored hay (Waldron et al., 2006; Gade and Provenza, 1986; Waldron, 2004).

Otsyina et al. (1984) reported that shrubs are particularly important in winter grazing systems. During winter, dormant grasses are high in energy (fiber) but low in protein (Waldron et al., 2006; Cook, 1972). Simultaneously, shrubs such as forage kochia are low in energy and high in protein (Waldron et al., 2006; McKell et al., 1990). Combining grasses and shrubs can optimize protein and energy levels by meeting microbial crude protein requirements of 7% (Van Soest, 1994) during nutritionally stressful times (Arthun et al., 1992).

Reported benefits of forage kochia prompted researchers and local entities to conduct a study in Tooele County, Utah, of traditional winter pastures versus pastures with forage kochia.

References:
Clements, C.D., K. J. Gray, and J. A. Young. 1997. Forage kochia: to seed or not to seed. Rangelands 19:29-31.
Davis, A.M. 1979. Forage quality of prostrate kochia compared with three browse species. Agron. J. 71:822-824.
Davis, J.N., and B. L. Welch. 1985. Winter preference, nutritive value, and other range use characteristics of Kochia prostrata schrad. Great Basin Naturalist 45:778-782.
Francois, L.E. 1976. Salt tolerance of prostrate summer cypress. Agron. J. 68:455-456.
Harrison, R.D., B.L. Waldron, K.B. Jensen, R. Page, T.A. Monaco, W.H. Horton, and A.J. Palazzo. 2002. Forage kochia helps fight range fires. Rangelands. 24(5):3-7.
Harrison, R.D., N.J. Chatterton, B.L. Waldron, B.W. Davenport, A.J. Palazzo, W.H. Horton, and K.H. Asay. 2000. Forage Kochia Its compatibility and potential aggressiveness on Intermountain rangelands. Utah Ag. Exp. Sta. Res. Rpt. 162. (Available on-line at http://www.agx.usu.edu/agx/ResearchReports/KOCHIA/kochia.html).
McArthur, E.D. and S.C. Sanderson. 1996. Adaption of forage kochia accessions across an environmental gradient in Rush Valley, Utah. Arid Soil Research and Rehabilitation 10:125-138.
Monaco, T.A., B.L. Waldron, R.L. Newhall, and W.H. Horton. 2003. Re-establishing perennial vegetation in cheatgrass monocultures. Rangelands 25(2):26-29.
Koch, D. 2002. Kochia - a forage with winter grazing potential. University of Wyoming Extension. (Available on-line at http://www.uwyo.edu/ces/psas/SMRR/kochia.html).
Waldron, B.L., R.D. Harrison, N.J. Chatterton, and B.W. Davenport. 2001a. Forage kochia: Friend or foe. p.210-215. In D.E. McArthur and D.J. Fairbanks (comps.) Shrubland Ecosystem Genetics and Biodiversity Symp., Provo, UT. 13-15 June 2000. Proceedings RMRS-P-21. USDA, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Res. Station. Ogden, UT.
Waldron, B.L., R.D. Harrison, N.I. Dzyubenko, A. Khusainov, S. Shuvalov, and S. Alexanian. 2001b. Kochia prostrata germplasm collection expedition to Kazakhstan. p.113-117. In D.E. McArthur and D.J. Fairbanks (comps.) Shrubland Ecosystem Genetics and Biodiversity Symp., Provo, UT. 13-15 June 2000. Proceedings RMRS-P-21. USDA, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Res. Station. Ogden, UT.
Waldron, B.L., R.D. Harrison, T. Mukimov, A. Rabbimov, S.Y. Yusupov, and G. Tursunova. 2003 (In Review). Forage kochia – The alfalfa of Uzbekistan’s desert. Rangelands.
ZoBell, D.R., B.L. Waldron, K.C. Olson, R.D. Harrison, and H. Jensen. 2003. Forage Kochia for Fall/Winter Grazing. Utah State University Extension Publ. AG-2003-07. (Available on-line at http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/zobell7.pdf)

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Robert Adams
  • Bruce Clegg
  • Darrell Johnson
  • Greenhalgh Linden
  • Blair Waldron

Research

Materials and methods:

Site Information:
The study took place in two successive years (2007 & 2008) at two locations: one in the Tooele Valley on land owned by the Grantsville Conservation District, the other in Rush Valley on land owned by Darrell Johnson, a local rancher. The two sites are approximately 18 miles apart and have different ecological site descriptions. An ecological site description defines a distinctive kind of land, with specific physical characteristics, differing from other kinds of land in ability to produce a distinctive kind and amount of vegetation and in response to management (NRCS Range Site Descriptions).

Ecological Site Descriptions:

Tooele Valley
Site Name: Semi-Desert Alkali Loam (Black Greasewood)
Location: (lat 40º 34' 16.91" N, long 112° 24' 25.74" W)
Elevation: 4800 to 5300 feet above sea level
Annual precipitation: 8-12 inches
Mean annual air temperature: 45 to 52
Frost free period: 100 to 150 days
Expected average forage production: 500 to 650 lbs/acre

Rush Valley
Site Name: Upland Loam (Mountain Big Sagebrush)
Location: (lat 40° 19' 17.90" N, long 112º 29' 36.44" W)
Elevation: 4300 to 7000 feet above sea level
Annual precipitation: 12 to 16 inches
Mean annual air temperature: 47 to 50 degrees F
Frost-free period: 100 to 120 days
Expected average forage production: 1150 to 1200 lbs/acre.
Kochia Establishment:
One-hundred eight acres in Tooele Valley and one-hundred twenty-eight acres in Rush Valley were prepared by disking in November 2004 and seeded with forage kochia in January 2005 at a rate of 2 lbs/acre of pure live seed.

Initial germination and development of kochia progressed slowly in Tooele Valley. It was hoped that data could be collected in late fall of 2006 but was postponed until fall of 2007 and 2008.

The Rush Valley site had an excellent stand of forage kochia in the summer of 2005 but also a significant infestation of hoary cress. It was decided that it would be best to treat the pasture with herbicide. Metsulfuron and 2-4D were applied in June of 2006. This set the kochia back considerably but did not kill it.

Forage Evaluation:
Forage production in 2008 is the average of 32 subsamples at each location within each treatment. Forage production in 2007 is from NRCS double sampling method. Species of plants not used by cattle were excluded.
:
Initial and final body condition scores were given to cows by two individuals.

Statistical Analysis:
Data were analyzed with Proc Mixed with treatments fixed and blocks random (using Warr 2007, Warr 2008, and Johnson 2008 as three blocks).

Research results and discussion:

While the difference between final BCS for both groups was not significantly different the difference between the BCS changes in groups was. We expected to see a difference, however, both control and kochia pastures had adequate forage to increase BCS.

The difference in forage production between treatments was the most notable difference in this study. Forage kochia thrived during hot dry conditions. Data show an almost six-fold increase in production, which translates to increased carrying capacity.

Forage kochia had similar overall digestibility compared to grass but CP value was greater and fiber digestibility more favorable.

Total DM was 441 and 2586 kg/ha for the control versus kochia pastures respectively (P=.0007). Forage quality for CP, ADF, NDF and IVTD for control and forage kochia was 3.1 and 11.7 (P=.033); 41.2 and 34.2 (P= .30); 64.7 and 45.7 (P=.10); and 62.9 and 63.5 (P=.93) respectively.

Research conclusions:

Increasing producer knowledge, awareness, attitudes. and skills:
There is a great deal of curiosity about forage kochia based on interest at field days and inquiries by producers from throughout the Intermountain West to the investigators in this study Producers are requesting applied and timely information so they can adopt the use of forage kochia to overcome the aforementioned problems on lands they manage and graze.
The second benefit in this realm comes from on farm/ranch research. The typical model of adoption of new practices by agricultural producers suggests that once this first cadre of producers demonstrates the value of the practice among their community peers, then positive attitudes and adoption of practices spreads in waves throughout the region that it applies to. This suggests that the demonstration of research results in producer enterprises is a highly successful means of increasing producer knowledge, awareness, attitudes and skills that will evolve over time to encompass most producers to which the technology applies. Therefore, not only did we affect these attributes for the producers directly involved in this project, but also for a cadre of neighbors, followed by another cadre in ever-increasing circles beyond the geographic center of the project.
Information dissemination:
Extension efforts transferred existing and new knowledge about forage kochia to diverse clientele including producers, public land managers, wildlife managers, conservation agencies, environmental groups, and rural community governments. There are several reasons that these clientele extent beyond producers. First and foremost, modern livestock producers in the Intermountain West do not get to manage their enterprises in a vacuum. They must have the cooperation from these groups to make invest in and adopt new management practices. Thus, it is imperative that knowledge and attitudes toward forage kochia must be shared among all partners if any member can successfully adopt the technology. For example, most beef cattle producers operate for at least a portion of the year on public land and are dependent on knowledge and attitudes of public land managers to make or change land management decisions. Knowledge was transferred through traditional technology transfer methods such as Fact sheets, study site visits with producers and discussions and presentations at Extension and research meetings. Results were written into reports that were made available in traditional print as well as published on the USU Extension web page
Resources impacts:
Land resources: Most of the rangeland of the arid West is invaded by annual weeds and would benefit from re-establishment of perennial vegetation. Thus, the land resource impacted includes this vast land area that is dispersed across the western U.S., particularly the most arid portion in the Intermountain region. As described previously, this impact would spread through time from the work accomplished during this project on the land managed by the cooperators.
Human Resources:
The human resources impacted include most of the population of the same region, including livestock producers, land managers, wildlife managers, and inhabitants of rural communities.
The impact for livestock producers has increased economic and ecological sustainability because of a more stable source of nutrients for livestock from the perennial forage that replaced annual weeds, which provide a temporally variable and thus undependable source of forage.
The impact for land managers was increased ecosystem sustainability on the land they are charged with managing because perennial plant communities are more diverse and stable, leading to improved ecosystem function. For example, the ability of the vegetation to protect the soil from erosion was increased.
The impact for wildlife managers was derived from the perennial plant communities providing a more stable and properly functioning ecosystem that provides better habitat for the wildlife they are charged with managing. These benefits accrue for both game and non-game species.
The impact on inhabitants of rural communities comes most directly from protection of those communities from the vagaries of wildfire. Forage kochia greenstrips provide the potential to prevent communities from being over-swept and destroyed by a wildfire. Additionally, the control of wildfires will reduce health risks associated with air-borne pollutants from fires by reducing fire size and intensity. Rural communities will benefit from improved municipal water yield and quality from watersheds that are more functional because of improved ecosystem health associated with conversion of annual plant communities to perennial species. Finally, rural communities that are economically dependent on ranching enterprises and wildlife hunting enterprises will benefit from economic stimulation of those enterprises as described above. In fact, these impacts should extend to large urban metropolitan areas as well.
Livestock and wildlife resources:
Improved nutritional status, health, well-being, and survival has accrued to animals afforded the opportunity to graze more stable and diverse plant communities.
Producer involvement:
Producer cooperators, Darrell Johnson and the members of the grazing association that graze the Grantsville Soil Conservation District (SCD) land, did not have direct experience with forage kochia, but were aware of the potential advantages and wanted to gain knowledge and experience with it. The investigators and these cooperators directly interacted in planning the research and extension efforts. They agreed to be involved, including providing land and cattle, execution of the research, and dissemination of results. The producers using the Grantsville SCD land were very supportive and felt the project had great value because it was designed on a landscape scale, with each pasture containing over 150 acres and supporting 20 or more cows.
Additionally, the City of Grantsville was interested because the soil conservation district land involved surrounds the city on three sides and has been the site of historical wildfires that threatened the city. Thus, they were supportive of incorporation of forage kochia greenstrips in the research trials that were strategically placed to protect the city from fires.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Greenalgh, L.K., K.C. Olson, D.R. ZoBell, B.L. Waldron, A.R. Moulton, and B.W. Davenport. 2008. Perennial forage kochia for improved productivity of grass dominated winter grazing pastures. WSASAS Proceedings, Vol. 59:210-212.

Greenalgh, L.K., K.C. Olson, D.R. ZoBell, B.L. Waldron, A.R. Moulton and B.W. Davenport. 2008. Perennial forage kochia (Kochia prostrata) for improved rangeland grazing. Extension Best Practices Proceedings, Utah State University Extension Conference March 4-6, 2008, p27.

Wood, M., B. Waldron, N. Jerry Chatterton and D.R. ZoBell. 2006. Nutritious treat for cattle and wildlife: forage Kochia. USDA Agricultural Research, January, 2006 p18-19.

Waldron, B.L., D.R. ZoBell, K.C. Olson, K.B. Jensen, D.L. Snyder. 2006. Stockpiled forage kochia to maintain beef cows during winter. Rangeland Ecology and Management. Vol. 59:275-284
Greenhalgh, L.K., B.W. Davenport, B.L. Waldron, K.C. Olson, D.R. ZoBell and M.D. Palmer. 2006. Establishment of perennial forage kochia on great basin rangeland. Utah State University Extension Conference, Logan, UT March, 2006.

Waldron, B.L., D.R. ZoBell, K.C. Olson, K.B. Jensen, and D.L. Snyder. 2005. Using stockpiled forage kochia and crested wheatgrass to maintain beef cows during winter. In: 2005 Agronomy Abstracts (CD-ROM), ASA, Madison, WI.

Waldron, Blair L., Dale R. ZoBell, Kenneth C. Olson, Kevin B. Jensen, and Donald L. Snyder. 2005. Using stockpiled forage kochia and crested wheatgrass to maintain beef cows during winter. ASA-CSSA Annual Meetings.

ZoBell, D.R., B.L. Waldron, K.C. Olson, R.D. Harrison, K. Jensen and H. Jensen. 2004. The use of forage kochia by beef cows for fall/winter grazing. Forage Kochia Workshop and Tour, Utah State University, Nov 9-10, p30-34.

ZoBell, D.R., B.L. Waldron, K.C. Olson, R.D. Harrison, and H. Jensen. 2004. Utilization of forage kochia for fall/winter grazing. Proceedings, WSASAS, Vol. 55:282-284.

Waldron, B.L., T.A. Monaco, K.C. Olson, and D.R. ZoBell. 2004. Forage Kochia: A plant for wildfire control and winter grazing. SRM 57th Annual Meeting, SLC, UT Jan 24-30. Vol. 57:180-181.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Economic impacts for livestock producers include improved profitability in livestock enterprises. An improved supply of nutrients from perennial forages has led to improved animal performance and carrying capacity, which, in turn, impacts economic viability. This will be accrued with on-farm/ranch resources, thus leading to reduced cash feed costs for supplemental nutrients. Improved wildlife populations because of better habitat should contribute for improved opportunities for producers by providing the opportunity to diversify into wildlife enterprises, such as game hunting. Increased quality of life for producers should include improved profit and reduced time and labor commitments to livestock enterprises.
Impacts for land managers include reduced costs for fire control and fire rehabilitation. This in turn is an economic impact for all taxpayers because of tax support for the land management agencies.
Improved quality of life for rural community inhabitants includes better yield and quality of water, cleaner air to breathe, and reduced fire control costs.
Finally, improved quality of life can accrue for the entire population through improved landscape aesthetics.

Tillage and seeding of pastures was approximately $50.00/acre. Seed cost of forage kochia varied during the course of this study and was as high as $20.00/lb. Kochia takes time to establish but once a healthy stand is ready for grazing it greatly increases carrying capacity. The forage kochia grazing system would have been more profitable due to lower costs due to carrying capacity being increased six fold thus reducing the need to feed stored feeds. This is based on approximately $45-$50 / AUM to feed stored feeds and approximately $16-$20 / AUM to pay for pasture rent and fees. Grazing systems are also much less labor intensive.

Farmer Adoption

Many farmer/ranchers in Tooele County have previously planted forage kochia. It has in some cases been difficult to get established. However, producers aren’t always sure what they need to look out for when in fact the plant has germinated and is established but in a dormant state until sufficient moisture allows the plant to grow.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

More economic analysis needs to be conducted over time as more producers incorporate forage kochia into their rangelands. This will provide a more accurate assessment of establishment costs and impacts on profitability due to carrying capacity and less use of supplements on winter range. Growth rate of kochia would also be interesting to study as establishment of kochia can take longer than anticipated, depending on the soil and moisture levels.

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.