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Using Early Intensive Grazing to Manage Kentucky Bluegrass

Feature article from the Central Grasslands Forum - Fall 2014 edition.

Bob Patton, Range Scientist, CGREC

A grazing project was started at CGREC in 2011 on pastures that are heavily dominated by Kentucky bluegrass. This perennial cool-season grass begins growth earlier than our native species. The forage quality of Kentucky bluegrass is high in the spring, but decreases though the season, resulting in reduced overall forage quality during the summer. This can reduce cattle performance.

In this study, we are focusing on the pasture system. The objective is to determine if stocking pastures early at a high stock density and removing the cattle before they begin grazing the native vegetation can reduce the proportion of Kentucky bluegrass in the community. This may benefit the native species and improve forage quality.

To answer these questions, an early intensive treatment and a season-long treatment are being compared. Three 40-acre pastures are used for each treatment. Livestock are not rotated among pastures, and each treatment receives the same treatment each year. Over twice as many cattle are placed on the early intensive pastures as on the season-long pastures for about one-third the time. Cattle are stocked in each pasture as early as possible after Kentucky bluegrass greens up (as early as mid-April). Cattle are removed from the early intensive pastures when 30 percent of the native species receives some grazing, or about five weeks. On the season-long pastures, the objective is to graze at a moderate stocking rate, somewhere between 0.96 and 1.85 AUM/acre for three or four months.

We have found that forage production was not significantly different between the early intensive and the season-long grazing treatments in 2011, 2012 or 2013 (Figure 1). Kentucky bluegrass aerial cover and frequency of occurrence has declined on the early intensive treatment during the period, while its aerial cover increased on the season-long treatment in 2012 and 2013.

We will continue to study changes in the vegetation during the next several months. In addition, cattle gains are now monitored to compare the treatments. For more information, see the detailed article in our 2013 Annual Report.

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