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A New Use for "Old" Grass

By Tara Weaver
January 12, 1999

Agricultural Research Service scientists have found a simple approach to managing grazing-sensitive eastern gamagrass. Its potential for high productivity and moderate forage quality has sparked ranchers’ interest in the grass as a forage crop.

Gamagrass, native to the United States, is sensitive to heavy grazing and requires careful grazing management, such as rotational stocking (alternating grazing and at least 45-day rest periods).

In a 3-year study, research agronomist Glen E. Aiken with ARS’ Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Booneville, Ark., placed 500-pound steers on eastern gamagrass pastures at stocking rates of 1.2, 2.0 and 3.0 steers per acre in early May for each of the three years.

Cattle were removed from the pasture once the grass height was grazed down to 12 to 15 inches. Overall steer gain per acre was best for the highest stocking rate with the shortest grazing duration.

Aiken says heavier grazing earlier in the grazing season means more time for pastures to bounce back and replenish themselves later in the season. Also, forage is used early in the season when forage quality is at its highest.

Gamagrass tolerated grazing over the 3 years, since all pastures remained productive. Interestingly, Aiken found the pastures had increased in plant density, rather than not thriving under grazing practices.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific agency.

Scientific contact: Glen Aiken, ARS Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center, Booneville, Ark., phone (501) 675-3834, fax (501) 675-2940,