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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Improving Productivity of Winter Wheat-Stocker Calf Enterprises by Including Perennial Cool-Season Grasses

Authors
item Northup, Brian
item Phillips, William
item Mayeux Jr, Herman

Submitted to: Proceedings of the National Conference on Grazing Lands
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: March 15, 2007
Publication Date: November 19, 2007
Citation: Northup, B.K., Phillips, W.A., Mayeux Jr, H.S. 2007. Improving productivity of winter wheat-stocker calf enterprises by including perennial cool-season grasses. Proceedings of the National Conference on Grazing Lands. p. 257-260.

Interpretive Summary: Grazing winter wheat or warm-season grass with yearling stocker cattle is an important activity for producers in Oklahoma. The major forage systems used in the area have gaps when high quality forage is less available, which limits gains by stockers. We conducted two studies during 2000 through 2005 to test how introduced perennial cool-season grasses might affect the economic function of winter wheat-stocker calf enterprises. We found that including perennial cool-season grasses in wheat-based grazing systems can allow producers to lengthen the grazing season and produce cost-effective livestock gains. In one study, pastures of two wheatgrass cultivars were grazed as partial replacements for wheat pasture for 55 days in November through December and 75 days in March through May. Combining wheat and wheatgrass pastures supported grazing for 30 days longer than wheat alone, and produced total gains similar to wheat at lower annual costs. In the second study, pastures of nontoxic endophyte-infected tall fescue were grazed by intensive stocking (2 to 3 times normal stocking rates) for 35-day periods in the fall and spring, as gap-filling forage before and after wheat. Stockers during these periods gained 145 lb per head at times when wheat or warm-season forages were not available. Either wheatgrass (as a partial replacement) or nontoxic endophyte-infected tall fescue (as a gap-filling forage) would allow producers to extend the cool-season grazing period of stocker calves, and maintain availability of high quality forage for a longer period of time.

Technical Abstract: Each year, millions of yearling stocker cattle graze winter wheat or warm-season grass in Oklahoma for low cost post-weaning gains en route to feedlots. This two-forage system has gaps when high quality forage is less available, which limits consistent gains by stockers. We undertook two studies in 2000 through 2005 to determine how introduced perennial cool-season grasses might affect the economic function of winter wheat-stocker calf enterprises. In one study, 2.0 ha pastures of two different wheatgrass cultivars (9 pastures per cultivar) under three levels of nitrogen fertilization were grazed as partial replacements for wheat pasture for 55 days in November through December and 75 days in March through May. Stockers gained weight at roughly 80% of levels recorded for stockers grazing wheat over a 130-day period. Combining wheat and wheatgrass pastures supported grazing for 30 days longer than grazing wheat alone, and produced similar total gains at a lower annual cost. In the second experiment 9, 1.7 ha pastures of a novel non-toxic endophyte infected tall fescue were grazed by intensive stocking (3 times normal stocking rates) for 35-day periods in the fall and spring, as gap-filling forage before and after wheat. Stockers during these periods gained an additional 66 kg per head at times when wheat or warm-season forages were not available. Combining fescue and wheat pasture produced higher returns per ha than grazing wheat alone at similar costs per unit gain. With proper grazing and fertilizer management perennial cool-season grasses can function as partial replacements for wheat or as gap-filling forages, allowing producers to lengthen the grazing season, produce cost-effective livestock gains, and potentially change marketing strategies for their product.

Last Modified: 7/25/2014
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