Researchers enhance grazing systems

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 28, 2005
by WLJ
ARS wants to improve the stability and profitability of forage production. Two research units in the central Great Plain states of Oklahoma and Nebraska demonstrate the agency's commitment to that purpose.
The mission of the ARS Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, OK, is to enhance forage and livestock production and develop management strategies that incorporate climate risk, promote sustainability, and conserve the productivity of grazinglands resources on the Great Plains.
Managing intensive grazing systems for forage-finishing of livestock and dairy production requires increased efficiency in nutrient use.
William A. Phillips, an animal nutritionist in El Reno, found that kenaf, a crop usually grown in many parts of the world as a source of fiber and in the United States to make paper, could replace alfalfa pellets as a crude protein supplement for lambs fed bermudagrass or fescue hay without affecting feed intake or weight gain.
To produce alfalfa hay, farmers have to make a multi-year commitment of land and resources that is not always optimal for some integrated cropping-livestock enterprises. Kenaf, in some cases, would provide producers with more flexibility than a perennial crop.
Researchers in El Reno also recently found that the legume pigeonpea could help fill a gap in the year-round availability of nutritious forages for cattle producers. Pigeonpea, a legume with excellent drought resistance, is used widely in Asia for human food and livestock feed.
Pigeonpea is environmentally friendly and sustainable, according to agronomist Srinivas C. Rao. Studies found it had yields and nutritive values during the summer equal to those of other forage crops used in the region. It can be used during the late summer and fall forage deficit period in a continuous winter wheat production system.
Grazing management also requires a great understanding of animal capabilities, husbandry needs, and grazing behavior.
Studies at the El Reno laboratory and the ARS Subtropical Agricultural Research Station in Brooksville, FL, found that remote sensing could soon be used to give real-time quality assessments and nutritional landscape mapping of grazing lands to help users make better-informed harvesting decisions.
Remote-sensing techniques that use detection and measurement of reflected or emitted light, heat, sound and radio waves could one day replace time-consuming forage analysis methods, such as near-infrared spectrometry and chemical procedures.
Researchers used Midland bermudagrass and other warm-season grasses to compare current methods and remote-sensing techniques to detect concentrations of nitrogen and other components. Remotely acquired information was done in hours, soil scientist Patrick Starks said, which is much faster than conventional lab analysis.
Central and Northern Great Plains cattle will soon be enjoying new wheatgrass cultivars developed by ARS scientists at the Wheat, Sorghum and Forage Research Unit in Lincoln, NE, and cooperators at the University of Nebraska.
Two of three recent releases have been turned over to seed growers and should be available for spring and fall 2005 plantings, according to Ken Vogel, the Lincoln unit's research leader.
Beefmaker is recommended as a pasture forage for yearling beef steers because it is protein-packed and readily digested. Haymaker is intended as a cool-season hay crop for maintaining beef cowherds.
El Reno, Lincoln and Brooksville aren't the only places ARS conducts forage research. The program includes research at more than 30 other locations throughout the United States, which are part of Rangeland, Pasture, and Forages, an ARS national program designed, in part, to improve the quality and quantity of forages available for livestock. Under the direction of this program, ARS research evaluates grazing impacts in various environments and develops management practices and techniques that assess and monitor sustained livestock production from grazing lands.
This ARS national program aims to provide technology to conserve the natural resource base, while enhancing the productivity, sustainability and ecological health of the nation's rangeland.