Controlled Grazing on Foothill Rangelands

Project Overview

SW96-021
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1996: $40,750.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $49,500.00
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Roger Ingram
University of California Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: mineral supplements, grazing - rotational, watering systems, winter forage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems

    Abstract:

    [Note to online version: The report for this project includes tables and figures that could not be included here. The regional SARE office will mail a hard copy of the entire report at your request. Just contact Western SARE at (435) 797-2257 or wsare@mendel.usu.edu.]

    Research projects at the site examined the effects of controlled grazing on the environment, livestock performance and profitability, and analyzed the potential of spring calving on annual rangeland. The same site was used as a demonstration project on low-stress livestock handling, and appropriate tools and equipment for pasture management and livestock control. Educational projects included the 5 Grazing Academies and 3 project field days.

    The 250-acre site was subdivided into 23 rangeland paddocks and stocked with 20 cows and heifers during the two years of the project spring calving occurred. Water was developed to every paddock using both permanent and portable water points. Innovative technologies were demonstrated with regards to fencing, water development, and pumping with solar and ram pumps. Grazing planning was used to ensure rest periods of 30-45 days during fast growth and 90-120 days during slow growth. Carrying capacity was estimated at the end of the growing season and stocking rates were adjusted according to these estimates. Implementation of controlled grazing principles allowed stocking rate to increase 51.4% over historical levels. Species composition did not change during the life of the project. The application of concentrated animal impact removed thistle infestations.

    The project herd was established consisting of fall calving cows. Calving season was switched to spring to match the animal’s greatest demand with nature’s largest supply, eliminating the need to purchase energy off the farm (hay) and feed to the animals. Cows were in body condition score (BCS) 7.9 at calving in 1998. In 1999, they were in BCS 6.6 at calving. Conception rates were 100% for the two years breeding season occurred in the summer. The calving interval for cows bred in summer 1998 to calve in spring 1999 was 357 days. The calving rate for 1998 and 1999 spring calving cows was 100%. Weaning rate was 92% for both years. Heifer conception rates were 80%. They calved for the first time in spring 1999 at BCS 4.7.

    Comparing the calf weights of fall- and spring-born calves at similar ages revealed a 53-pound advantage for six-month-old fall calves. By 11 months of age, there was no difference. Highest economic returns of $250 per cow were generated with this approach.

    Keeping cows and calves together for as long as possible improved weight gain on the calves. Calves weaned at six months of age were 30 pounds lighter at selling than calves weaned at nine months of age. Body condition was the indicator for weaning. Cows with calves were weaned when cows reached a BCS 5; they must be weaned one to two months before they calve again, even if their body condition is adequate.

    Forage samples were collected on a monthly basis for the purpose of developing a supplement that made up for all deficiencies except for energy – which would come from the land. Three years of data show crude protein declining from 21% in February to less than 4% by October. Energy levels declined 40% between March and July and then remained relatively stable.

    Project objectives:

    • Demonstrate controlled grazing on foothill/annual grassland and irrigated pasture
    • Demonstrate monitoring procedures to assess range condition and trend and livestock performance
    • Teach research based controlled grazing practices to livestock producers
    • Compare effects of controlled grazing to conventional grazing on livestock production and economic performance
    • Compare effects of controlled grazing to conventional grazing and livestock exclusion on plant communities
    • Determine effects of controlled grazing on trace mineral nutrition of cattle
    • Determine effects of controlled grazing on parasitism in cattle

    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.