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

2000 Annual Report for SW00-015

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:
Dr. 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

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



An evaluation of alternative versus traditional wheat stubble management practices comparing sheep grazing to tilling and burning. Invasive weeds, soil compaction and fertility, and pest insects, primarily the wheat stem sawfly which is the single most destructive pest to Montana’s $1 billion per year grain industry, annually reduce grain production quantity and quality. Tillage and burning, which have negative environmental impacts, are traditionally used to manage these production hindrances. Using sheep grazing, in place of traditional means, to manage grain fallow presents a sustainable based, alternative fallow management program based on the marriage of food and fiber production.

Objectives/Performance Targets


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

over-wintering wheat stem sawfly larvae and emergence of adult populations.
soil nutrient profiles, nutrient cycling, and soil compaction.

total biomass including wheat stubble, cheatgrass, volunteer wheat and mustard weed.

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

develop and conduct large, multiform field demonstrations. Communicate results to producers, students, scientists, and public on advantages of implementing sustainable alternative grain residue management strategies.



We have completed the field component of our first year of study and additionally have completed processing our first year’s field samples. We are currently compiling this data into spreadsheet files for future statistical analysis. In October 2001, we began our second year of study by establishing four research sites on grain stubble in north central Montana.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes:

The ultimate measure of success of this project is the development of partnerships between wheat and sheep producers to more effectively manage and use wheat stubble. In addition, peer reviewed scientific publications will be the basis of and extensive outreach program. Based on a preliminary study recording 87% reduction in overwitering wheat stem sawfly populations in sheep grazed plots compared to non-grazed controls, producer involvement with the development of this project, and successful use of sheep for weed management there is a high probability of success and acceptance by the agricultural and rural communities. By matching the potential ‘by-product’ feed resources of the Montana grain producers with the low cost forage needs of Montana sheep producers, this integrated system will help meet human food needs with maintaining or improving environmental quality. Montana grain and sheep producers are the third and fifth ranked nationally for production, respectively. Therefore, this project will have a major economic impact on Montana’s largest industry, agriculture. Substituting grazing for tillage, burning, and herbicide practices that degrade soil, water, and air quality will enhance environmental quality, conserve nutrient resources and result in mutually profitable economic activities that strengthen agriculture competitiveness. Our research encourages cooperation between diverse agricultural enterprises that will strengthen rural communities by linking a source of inexpensive feed with a successful pest management practice. Matching these enterprises and providing incentives to growers, as a pest management practice, provides a mutually beneficial solution and makes up the cornerstone of our current research. Thus our research is producing results that will lower production costs (i.e., mechanical management of stubble), reducing pollution sources (i.e., emissions from residue burning) and aid in wheat stem sawfly and weed management.


George Orcutt

Grain Producer
Ledger, MT 59456
Office Phone: 4066272227
John Helle

Sheep Producer
Helle Rambouillet
1350 Stone Creek Road
Dillon, MT 59725
Office Phone: 4066836686
Terry Peters

[email protected]
Grain Producer
Less-Terr Farms
P.O. Box 85A
Ledger, MT 59456
Office Phone: 4066272320
Gary Broyles

Grain/Livestock Producer
Rapelje, MT 59067
Office Phone: 4066632115
Mickey Iverson

Grain Producer
Conrad, MT 59425
Office Phone: 4062783363
Terry Spezzano

Graduate Student
Montana State University, Dept. Animal and Range
119 Linfield Hall
Bozeman, MT 59717-2900
Office Phone: 4069943727
Dave Miley

Grain Producer
Conrad, MT 59425
Office Phone: 4062787150
John Wraith

[email protected]
Associate Professor
Montana State University, Dept. LS&ES
334 Leon Johnson Hall
Bozeman, MT 59717-3120
Office Phone: 4069941997
John Paugh

Sheep Producer
525 coulee Dr.
Belgrade, MT 59718
Office Phone: 4065859356