Evaluating Forage Production and Ranching in Response to Regenerative Rotational Grazing on Dryland Pastures in Southwest Colorado.

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Host Institution Award ID: G217-19-W7501
Grant Recipient: Charles M.McAfee & CO. LLLP
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Chuck McAfee
Charles M.McAfee & CO. LLLP


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial)
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine, goats


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, pasture fertility, rangeland/pasture management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: apprentice/intern training, labor/employment, new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships

    Proposal summary:

    Evaluating Forage Production and Ranching in Response to Regenerative Rotational Grazing on Dryland Pastures in Southwest Colorado.

    This project will establish forage to support high-intensity short duration regenerative rotational grazing. A goal is to demonstrate that ecological health is improved on dryland pastures through regenerative grazing. No one has studied this in this region before. It’s vitally important because it will result in major changes in how dryland is utilized while establishing farmer/rancher partnerships.

    Traditional cropping generally focuses on one ecosystem service to produce a commodity, while forage-based systems utilize many services, improving carbon sequestration, soil water holding capacity, wildlife habitat, etc. (Robertson and Swinton, 2005).

    Socioeconomic effects will include increased employment, abundance of affordable meat, and effective succession of family agricultural operations. It's essential that we produce the most food with the least resources as the world’s meat consumption continues to rise (World Watch, 2017).  

    Negative effects on agricultural communities occur as family farms and ranches are taken out of agricultural production (Brunson and Huntsinger, 2008).

    The McAfee family homesteaded and began farming this land in 1915--dry beans, wheat, and alfalfa. Soil preparation, planting, cultivating, harvesting, and disking caused compaction and a plow pan. Nothing beyond crop residue was returned to the soil, reducing organic matter accumulation and nutrient cycling. This is no longer feasible. The soil is degraded through erosion, compaction and over-use.  Periodic drought is devastating for traditional dryland row-cropping.

    The land went into CRP in 2005. Successes with native and non-native grasses and native shrubs demonstrate that these species are viable even in drought. The land is now in Grasslands CRP. Pastures are divided into paddocks of approximately 100 acres and grazed moderately, rotationally.

    Outreach will be through SWCRC. As they report to their advisory committee and the public we will report with them, including field demonstrations.



    Project objectives from proposal:

    Mission: The mission of the McAfees is to be exemplary stewards of the land that is entrusted to them through identification of best practices leading to improvements in soil health and increases in forage and beef production.
    Specific Objectives:
    1. Increase desirable soil physical properties, water absorption and retention, and carbon sequestration and storage over a three-year period beginning fall 2019.
    2. Increase biomass production and ground cover by 20%, and increase species diversity over a three-year period beginning fall 2019.
    3. Increase production of protein pounds per acre by increasing biomass production by 25% annually.
    4. Partner with SWCRC to establish and maintain an outreach program and technical assistance with statistical analysis of collected data, in place by June 2019.

    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.