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A Walk Through the Pasture: News from CGREC - Fall 2018

Kevin Sedivec, Interim Director, Central Grasslands Research Extension Center

Another summer season has come and gone. October 2018 marks two years since I started my role as interim director of the CGREC. They have been a mostly joyful two years mixed with sadness and stress, but mainly a fun atmosphere, working with a great staff.

The center enjoyed a great growing season in 2018 (compared with 2017), with precipitation from May 1 through Oct. 1 at 17.1 inches, or 127 percent of normal. We harvested two years’ worth of silage, which will save us on operating funds for 2019. We put up more than 3,000 large round bales, which will help replace our depleted supply from 2017 and allow us to not buy hay during the 2018-2019 winter season, also saving money.

We will complete our second season of the patch-burn grazing studies this fall, with some exciting findings related to increased pollinator habitat, increased breeding bird habitat across a landscape and increased livestock performance, compared with the control pastures.

One negative to a wet growing season was the conditions were never right to complete our summer burns: too wet, too humid or too windy. The summer plots were burned during the week of Oct. 15.

Michael Undi’s interseeded cover crop into standing corn at the V5 stage looks great and should provide a good year to look at the value of interseeding cover crops into corn in terms of livestock performance and economic costs, assuming we don’t get any early blizzards, as in 2016. This is the third year of this study.

 

An interseeded cover crop grows between corn rows on Aug. 27, 2018. The cover crop species that seemed to perform well were oats, radish and field peas. Turnip coverage was sporadic, but when emerged, it was productive.

 

We started a new rotational grazing treatment in 2018 that was designed to be different from other studies conducted in North America during the past 50 years. Most grazing system research was designed to create uniform, homogenous grazing patterns, and never overgrazing (heavy disturbance) or under grazing (light disturbance) within a unit.

The new treatment is a four-pasture modified twice-over, rest-rotation grazing strategy, with each pasture grazed at 1) take 75 percent, leave 25 percent - heavy use, 2) take 50 percent, leave 25 percent - full use, 3) take 25 percent, leave 75 percent - light use or 4) 12-plus months of rest – no use. This design also allows us to study regrowth and harvest efficiency of the cow.

The rotational grazing treatment allows us to compare three different grazing treatments that offer different grazing behavior and patterns, compared with a control. The three treatments are 1) patch spring-burn grazing (burn 25 percent of the pasture per year, with the entire pasture burned in four years), 2) patch spring plus summer burn (burn 12.5 percent of the pasture per year in the spring and 12.5 percent in the summer, with the entire pasture burned in four years), and 3) a four-pasture modified twice-over, rest-rotation grazing strategy (rotate the use patterns yearly to have high, mid, low and no disturbance in four years. Season long grazing is the control.

Because we have a twice-over rotation treatment, we were able to collect regrowth potential in the heavy-disturbance pasture between the rotations. The first rotation of the heavy-use pasture grazed cow-calf pairs from May 23 to June 22, and second rotation was from July 25-Sept. 10, or 33 days of recovery. The stocking rate for that heavy-use pasture was 0.5 acres/animal unit month and a stocking density at 1.2 acres/animal unit.

On the shallow loamy sites, grass regrowth was 73 percent higher than for vegetation that was not grazed (Table 1). The loamy ecological had a 94 percent recovery of grass production with 33 days’ rest.

 

Table 1. Regrowth of grazed vegetation and continued growth of non-grazed vegetation during a 33-day rest period (June 22 to July 25) on the heavy-disturbance pasture of the four-pasture modified twice-over, rest-rotation grazing strategy.

 

Interestingly, the cattle eat almost every plant species within a burn patch and in the heavy-use pasture. In the burned patches and heavy-grazed pastures, buckbrush and wormwood were grazed. In the burn patches, the cattle eat more of the buckbrush and much of the suckers, whereas with the heavy-grazed pasture, the cattle top the buckbrush, which should increase suckers in 2019. Other plants grazed were goldenrods, heath aster, wild licorice, sunflowers and Canada thistle.

Grazed buckbrush in burned patch (left) and heavy-grazed pasture (right)















Grazed wormwood in burned patch (left) and heavy grazed pasture (right)


Finally, the calves were weaned during the week of Oct. 15. The cows will go to Undi’s bale grazing trial or corn:cover crop study in mid-November, and a small group will graze Scott Alm’s swath corn grazing project in late October.

Calves will be sorted, with 96 steers going to Fargo and studied as part of a precision agriculture genome study by Alison Ward, Carl Dahlen and Undi. Thirty-six intact bull calves will go to Fargo for a feeding trial looking at impacts of sulfur (distillers grain vs. corn vs. a high-sulfur diet similar to levels found in distillers grain) on testicular development and fertility. All the baldy calves will have data collected by Lauren Hanna to study temperament of individuals based on dam and sire.

Well, I have gotten wordy and long – just like I talk! I hope your winter is mild, livestock are healthy and bred, and you find time to enjoy the outdoors with your family and friends. Until our next walk through the pasture, stay safe this winter and enjoy North Dakota’s beautiful fall season.

Photos by Kevin Sedivec



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