Using Alternative Forages on Traditional Small Grain Crop Land in Rotational Grazing Systems for the Northern Great Plains
The objectives of this project are to:
1) Determine production of and yearling heifer performance from forages produced on traditional small grain cropland in the Northern Great Plains during late summer.
2) Determine if economic returns to crop land from growing forages and grazing cattle are competitive with returns from small grain production in the Northern Great Plains.
Forage treatments will be seeded into replicated paddocks in each of two years. Treatments will include foxtail millet (M; Setaria italica), sweetclover (C; Melilotus alba), alfalfa (A; Medicago sativa), barley (Hordeum vulgare), field pea (Pisum arvense) and combinations of M/C and M/A. Forage production resulting from these seedings will be grazed using yearling beef heifers. Grazing will initiate in late July or early August of each year and continue for at least 28 days. Forage samples and animal weights will be collected at the beginning and end of the grazing period and at 14-day intervals. Forage samples will be used to determine dry matter available for grazing, rate of dry matter disappearance and chemical composition (nitrates, crude protein, acid detergent fiber and neutral detergent fiber). Animal weights will be used to calculate average daily performance and total live weight production during the grazing period.
Production data has been collected during the first of a two-year project. Average dry matter production at the initiation of grazing was 5300 ± 1000 lb/ac. Across all paddocks, approximately 72% of this production was seeded plants and 28% was weedy plants. Heifers grazed for an average of 32 ± 9 d, gaining 89.0 ± 29.6 lb/head and 106.8 ± 35.5 lb/ac. This experiment is on going with final data to be collected in September 2001.
The ultimate objective of this project is to evaluate whether an integrated crop-livestock system can be developed that would produce human food (e.g. small grains, meat) in an economically efficient and environmentally friendly manner. An appropriate system would be one that effectively integrates the biological and natural resources available, while conserving as many nutrients as possible so as to reduce the need for purchased inputs (e.g. N fertilizer). Enabling enterprise diversification, particularly in small- and medium-scale operations, would help reduce environmental and economic risks. The risk management achieved could potentially enhance the economic viability of surrounding communities.