An Alternative to Traditional Wheat Stubble Management Using Sheep to Control Pests and Improve Soil Nutrient Cycling

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2000: $166,147.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $87,869.00
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Patrick Hatfield
Department of Animal and Range Sciences
Sue Blodgett
Montana State University, Dept. Entomology
Dr. Hayes Goosey
Montana State University
Duane Griffith
Montana State University, Ag Econ and Ext Dept

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: wheat
  • Animals: sheep


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, winter forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: biological control, flame, integrated pest management, physical control
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, employment opportunities


    Grazing sheep on wheat stubble resulted in higher wheat stem sawfly mortality than tillage or burning. Weed populations were either lower or did not differ from tillage or burning. Grazing did not negatively impact soil compaction. In a second study, we found that sheep grazing alfalfa residue dramatically reduced weevil numbers compared to non-grazed plots. Although grazed alfalfa plots had less biomass than non-grazed plots at the end of grazing in mid-spring, by harvest time there was no difference in hay yields. These results indicate that grazing sheep on alfalfa and wheat residue can help control pest insects and weeds.

    Project objectives:

    Objectives and methods described in this proposal are for the first three years of a long-term commitment by the project team to integrated sheep into a crop residue management system. Specific objectives were derived from reactions and concerns from a preliminary study conducted by Hatfield, Blodgett, Walkers, and Swartzs (Hatfield et al., 1999a), a producer/scientist planning meeting to outline objectives and determine responsibilities (appendix b), producer organization input (appendix d), and reviewer comments from previous submitted SARE proposals.

    Wheat stubble grazing and wheat stem sawfly and weed control

    Compare burning, grazing, and tilling wheat stubble fields in a multi-farm study on:

    Objective 1. Over-wintering WSS larvae and emergence of adult populations.

    Objective 2. Soil nutrient profiles, nutrient cycling, and soil compaction.

    Objective 3. Total biomass including wheat stubble, cheatgrass, volunteer wheat, and mustard weed.

    Objective 4. Crop yields and plant health

    Objective 5. Develop an economic model to evaluate long-term cost-benefits of the various methods of wheat stubble management and their respective outcomes.

    Objective 6. Develop and conduct large, multi-farm field demonstrations. Communicate results to producers, students, scientists, and public on advantages of implementing sustainable alternative grain residue management strategies.

    Alfalfa residue grazing and weevil control

    Objective The objective of this study was to determine the effect of winter through spring sheep grazing on spring re-growth characteristics of alfalfa and change in alfalfa weevil densities in southwestern Montana

    Long-term goal

    The team’s long-term goal is to develop an integrated crop/livestock production system that is economical and environmentally sustainable and provides benefits to both grazing livestock and grain producers. In addition, we look forward to developing a holistic sheep grazing program based on weed, insect, brush, and fire control. This will result in rural development with a new paradigm for production based on the “marriage” of food and fiber production with landscape manipulation.

    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.