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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Sims, Phillip
item Gillen, Robert
item Springer, Timothy
item Goldman, Jason

Submitted to: Proceedings of the National Conference on Grazing Lands
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/10/2003
Publication Date: 6/30/2004
Citation: Sims, P.L., Gillen, R.L., Springer, T.L., Goldman, J.J. 2004. Thirty years of native rangeland and native rangeland-complementary forage systems research. Proceedings 2nd National Conference on Grazing Lands, Dec. 8-10, 2003, Nashville, TN. p. 684-692.

Interpretive Summary: Economic pressures on agricultural enterprises over the last few decades, have forced producers to divert marginal farm lands from producing crops, while also losing soil to wind and water erosion, to producing forages that complement the native rangeland forage. These Native Rangeland-Complementary Forage systems can markedly increase economic returns to the forage-livestock enterprise while conserving the landscape resources. About 1.5 acres of these marginal farm lands per cow/calf unit were used to grow double-cropped winter wheat and summer Sudan grass or pearl millet using minimum conservation tillage practices, to provide green and nutritious forages primarily for the fall-born calf. Forages in excess of calf needs were used by the cow herd to reduce supplementation costs. Land area per cow was reduced from 20 to less than 14 acres, a 30% reduction in land area. Cows on the NRCF system retained reproductive rates of 88 to 89 percent, similar to native rangeland system, and weaned calves at 756 lb compared to 564 lb for the native rangeland system. The production of beef increased from 31 to 58 lbs per acre, an increase of 89%.

Technical Abstract: Economic pressures on agricultural production have led to new approaches in the development of innovative forage-livestock systems for the Southern Plains. During the 1970-1980's, farm and ranch bankruptcies were rampant and increasing costs of operation exceeded profits. Producers were forced to search for ways to integrate all available land and livestock resources into more efficient systems of production. Improved efficiencies of operation, as much as 30 to 50 percent, were required to sustain the economic units. Small incremental increases of 5 and 10 percent in production efficiency were no longer acceptable. The marginal farm lands, often producing crops at a loss, had to be incorporated into the forage marketing enterprises to increase production, conserve soil, and to reduce costly energy and nutrient inputs. The completion of a 20-year study establishing the carrying capacity of the Southern Plains mixed prairie and extensive evaluations of a large array of improved grasses suitable for reclaiming marginal farm lands set the stage for development of more efficient integrated forage production systems. This research has included the complementary use of native rangeland and annual forages such as winter wheat, Sudan grass, and pearl millet to provide green and nutritious forages for both the cow and calf. A primary emphasis of the early work was to focus on providing nutritious and palatable forage for the pre-weaned calf while optimizing the forage available to the cow to foster good milk production. Later studies include 'all-perennial' forage systems to further minimize costly energy and nutrient subsidies. Most studies spanned the lifetime of the cow herds, usually from 5 to 7 calf crops. The genetics of the cow herd and sires, particularly optimizing heterosis, have been a part of the evaluation that included Hereford, Angus-Hereford, Brahman-Hereford, and MARC III composite cows along with Brangus, Simmental, Red Poll, Angus, and Charolais sires. Calves from these studies have undergone some feedlot and carcass evaluations.

Last Modified: 06/26/2017
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