Sustainable Integrated Range Livestock - Crop Production Systems

1995 Annual 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

Sustainable Integrated Range Livestock - Crop Production Systems



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.


Major portions of the crops in the western arid 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, Nevada, 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, a UC Davis participant, 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 software (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 at

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 it relates to grazing. Alternative grazing techniques would allow ranchers more flexibility in managing public grazing lands for sustainability, and as a way 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, Nevada, 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 Nevada extension and NRCS offices when it is completed in January 2000.

Potential Benefits

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. When implemented by producers, sustainability of ranching operations will be enhanced.

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.

Future Recommendations and New Hypotheses

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

Educational/Informational Materials Produced

(Partial Listing)
· 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), Jim Oltjen, Department of Animal Science, UC Davis.
· Computer software program called CowCost. The program is available free for download at

This summary was prepared by the project coordinator for the 2000 reporting cycle.