- Animals: bovine
- Animal Production: grazing management
- Education and Training: extension
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
Project title: Restoring Native Tallgrass Prairie and Improving Profitability on Eastern South Dakota Grasslands with Intensive Early Stocking (IES). Project outcomes: 1) Development of a production system in eastern South Dakota for stocker cattle that improves profitability and market flexibility 2) a production system that favors the growth and development of native warm-season tallgrasses 3) development of extension programming to educate ranchers, state and federal agency personnel, and grazing managers on the benefits of intensive early stocking practices to improve producer profitability and help restore native tallgrass prairie ecosystems. Intensive early stocking systems experiments will be conducted to determine the increase in growth efficiency of lightweight cattle as a result of matching intake demand to available forage in the early-season. Percent composition of cool- and warm-season grasses will be measured to determine the change in species composition of grasslands. Collection of data and data analysis will be conducted by the graduate student and supervising faculty will ensure that results meet standards of appropriate peer reviewed journals. Presentations, field days, as well as feedback from ranchers/land managers will provide evaluation of the success of educational efforts.
Project objectives from proposal:
Short term outcomes: the increase in growth efficiency and thus profitability of lightweight cattle as a result of matching intake demand to available forage in the early-season using IES systems will be learned by research team, partners, and cooperating producers. Intermediate outcome: the response of eastern South Dakota grasslands that are dominated by introduced cool-season species to IES systems that favor the growth and development of warm-season tallgrasses will be learned by research team, partners, and cooperating producers. Long-term outcome: development of an IES production system in eastern South Dakota for stocker cattle that improves profitability and market flexibility for producers while helping restore native tallgrass prairie ecosystems.
Context, Background and Rationale
The natural landscape of South Dakota has been altered immensely since pre-European settlement. Large areas of land have been tilled, plowed and put into agricultural production; wetlands have been drained, filled, and farmed; as a result <1% native tallgrass prairie remains (The Northern Great Plains Floristic Quality Assessment Panel, 2001). Furthermore, season-long grazing by livestock has converted the majority of remaining native grassland in eastern South Dakota to a mix of introduced species such as smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermus, Leyss.) and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) (Mousel and Smart, 2007). Additionally, the financial incentives for ranchers to adjust season-long grazing practices are few. The EQUIP Program offered through the USDA/NRCS has provided some incentives for producers to manage forage more efficiently through the implementation of rotational grazing systems, however, rotational systems generally are season long systems and typically do not substantially reduce grazing pressure on warm-season grasses during critical times for growth and development in mid- to late-summer.
Financially, cow-calf producers are currently being squeezed by cattle feeders that are reluctant to buy lightweight calves in the face of escalating corn and supplemental feed costs driving the market value of both stocker and feeder cattle down. This scenario is enticing ranchers to hold on to weaned calves longer to add more weight by overwintering them and turning them out on grass the following summer to take advantage of the low cost gain associated with lightweight cattle on grass to improve profit margins. Unfortunately, grazing growing cattle on predominately cool-season grasses for the entire summer is not a terribly efficient production system. Once cool-season species mature and senesce by early- to mid-summer, gains on growing cattle generally decrease dramatically resulting marginal net gains.
Intensive early stocking systems however, potentially could address both of these issues by improving the growth efficiency and thus profitability of lightweight cattle as a result of matching intake demand to available forage in the early-season. Moreover, the very nature of the IES system lends itself to being a tool to begin the restoration process of native tallgrass ecosystems by concentrating grazing pressure on the introduced cool-season forage species during critical stages of growth and development and removing grazing pressure at the most critical stages of growth and development for native warm-season species resulting in a system that can develop and sustain the integrity and environmental quality of the natural resource base and improve the profitability of producers. Key assumptions we are making are that the historic use of season-long grazing on introduced cool-season dominated grasslands is the dominant force that impedes native warm-season tallgrass ecosystem integrity and growth efficiency of stocker cattle. Constraints that might impede progress could be a fear on the part of producers to incorporate dramatic changes with unfamiliar production systems into their operations.