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A Walk Through the Pasture: News from CGREC

Kevin Sedivec, Interim Director – Central Grasslands Research Extension Center

Early intensive pastureThe summer and fall of 2017 was an exciting time for the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center (at least in my opinion). Like much of North Dakota, we experienced drought conditions; however, we were fortunate to receive moisture in June to grow grass in the new research trials and a good cool-season hay crop.

We were extremely dry in July, with our silage corn and Michael Undi’s grain corn used in the corn/cover crop study looking like a failure. However, once again the rains came, albeit for only four weeks, so our silage corn was very good and Undi was able to obtain data from the grain corn crop. We have been very dry since early September, receiving only 44 percent of average precipitation in the last two months.

All the new range research studies were started and 15 prescribed burns were conducted in May and August. One of the main focuses for the large patch burn/graze project is to study the impact on Kentucky bluegrass-invaded pastures.

Kentucky bluegrass, a non-native grass, is now our dominant grass in the Coteau Region, reducing diversity of native grasses and forbs, and subsequently reducing the value of these grasslands for pollinators and birds. As bluegrass increases, forage production declines, especially in times of drought, and long-term sustainability of our grassland is lost.

Patch burn pastureOur objective is for the patch burns to attract grazing cattle, severely disturbing the burned patch while lightly grazing the unburned areas. As you can see from the lower photo, we were successful in achieving this objective. The front of the pasture shows where the burn was and the back shows a high level of maturing grass where no burning occurred.

The question is: “What will happen to the heavily disturbed plant community?” We will see some results in 2018, but more likely, we’ll see a landscape impact once we finish the first rotation of the burn and grazing treatments after four years.

We had a successful year in conducting the livestock studies. The cows and calves came off pasture healthy, with the cows gaining 150 to 200 pounds during the summer. We had some calves come off pasture weighing more than 800 pounds (we calve from late March to early May).

I believe some of the high performance was a function of fresh water, which was provided to all grazing animals. Calves on fresh water can gain as much as 1/3 pound per day more than calves watering out of dugouts and wetlands.

Calves also gain more weight on pasture during droughty conditions. Drought-affected grass tends to cure better and contain less water. Thus, the forage is less “washy” and denser in nutrients.

Our research this fall and early winter will focus on late-season grazing experiments lead by Undi and his team of Stephanie Becker and Jessalyn Bachler. Lauren Hulsman Hanna will be completing her second year of a genetics study looking at calf behavior.

In closing, the snows and blues (geese) have arrived and Lake George is attracting tens of thousands of birds. The grouse are grouping for the winter, and deer hunting season is just around the corner. The landscape has turned from green to brown, with forage quality reduced, and cows are grazing crop residues (and bales in the bale grazing study) until they go to their wintering pastures.

Until our next walk through the pasture, enjoy the splendors that fall brings the Dakotas. Prepare your family (and livestock) for winter. Take time to enjoy your family, take a walk (or ride a horse), or enjoy a hunting trip with your son or daughter (or grandson and granddaughter) through North Dakota’s beautiful prairies.

Snow geese

Photos by Kevin Sedivec and Rick Bohn, CGREC

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