WERA1014: Intensive Pasture Management for Sustainable Livestock Production in the Western US
Statement of Issues and JustificationLivestock production is a high-risk enterprise, with feed costs underlying much of the uncertainty for producers. Fluctuations in the cost of inputs and the availability of public grazing land have eliminated some livestock operators and put many more at risk of losing their businesses. Furthermore, producers relying on public land allotments are faced with increased conflicts with other public land uses, loss of forage due to wildfires and the following two year rest period, increased levels of invasive weeds, reductions in AUMs, and other regulations. This committee will focus its efforts on management-intensive grazing of temperate and irrigated pastures as a key component of sustainable livestock production systems in the western U.S. Forage-based livestock production managed for economic and ecological sustainability can address the problems associated with input costs, environmental risk, and land use issues.
This committee and WERA 110 both deal with forage-based livestock systems in the western U.S. The main difference between the 2 committees is that WERA 110 addresses the extensive management of rangeland production systems whereas this committee will address the more intensive management of temperate and irrigated pastures. These more intensive management systems are generally characterized by the seeding of improved forage species (both grasses and legumes), fertilization, and irrigation which are not typically used in the management of rangeland. A number of ranches in the western U.S. utilize irrigated meadows for hay and/or grazing purposes as part of their overall production system. Therefore, some of the results from this committee could be utilized or incorporated into the rangeland systems being addressed by WERA 110, such as the stockpiling of irrigated pasture forage for fall and winter grazing. However, the main emphasis of this committee will be to address complete, standalone forage production systems that are environmentally and economically sustainable. Some of the benefits of intensive systems include improved nutrient cycling which can reduce needs for nitrogen fertilizer, carbon sequestration, and protection against soil erosion. More intensive systems also offer greater marketing opportunities, since livestock are usually accessible, where they may not be under extensive rangeland conditions. A number of producers have benefitted economically by adopting these intensive pasture systems through outreach efforts associated with the Lost River Grazing Academy which is sponsored by several of the members of this committee. Basically, this committee will provide the main outlet for forage scientists in the western U.S. unlike WERA 110 whose membership is dominated by animal and range scientists.
This committee also has some cross-ties with W503 that deals with grass-fed beef. However, it appears that W503 is concentrating more on the animal aspects of grass-fed beef such as meat quality and not on how to manage pasture for a high quality grass-fat product that is ready to eat. The direction of W503 appears to be driven by the makeup of the committee which is mainly animal scientists with a few plant/forage scientists. Grass-fed is a broad term which means that animals could be finished on irrigated pasture, rangeland, hay, or some combination of sources. Therefore, this committee could compliment W503 by supplying information on irrigated pasture management principles, but the focus of W503 as far as potential forage sources for finishing animals is actually much broader. Additionally, two members of this committee are also members of W503 to provide that cross-linkage between the 2 groups.
Rotationally stocked pastures use grazing animals to harvest forages efficiently and at a stage of plant growth that optimizes forage nutritive value and pasture plant regrowth. While this approach to grazing dates to the late 1950s (Voisin, 1959), rotational stocking on rainfed or irrigated pastures (Gerrish, 2004) or on rangeland (Butterfield et al., 2006) is not widely accepted in the U.S. However, this low-input, sustainable approach to livestock production is common in the U.K., Europe, South Africa, and Australia, and is the basis for livestock production in New Zealand (Hodgson, 1990). We propose rotationally stocked, intensively managed grazing systems as the most environmentally and economically sustainable alternative to extensive (continuous) grazing practices for beef production, and to confinement (drylot) systems for dairy production.
Many U.S. livestock producers are successfully using grazing-based systems (Harwood et al., 1999; Loeffler et al., 1996), but producers still weighing their options need detailed information to support their decision-making process (Center for Dairy Profitability; Coburn and Donaldson, 1995; Kingsbery 1989). While there are many reasons to adopt management-intensive livestock production systems, they must be built on sound economics (Castle et al., 1987; Ford and Musser, 1998; Schleicher et al., 2000; Smith et al., 1986).
In the U.S., much of the research on rotational stocking management has been carried out in the East, South, or Midwest (Barnhart et al., 1998; Bartlett et al., 1997; Blaser et al., 1986; Gerrish and Roberts, 1999). This work constitutes a useful but incomplete resource for producers in the western U.S., where irrigation must be addressed as both a management and a sustainability issue (Hill, 1994; Hill et al., 2000). The response of grazing animals also varies with climate, soils, and plant species, so the general literature (e.g., Beef Improvement Federation, 1996) should be reviewed for applicability, and new relevant regional resources made available (Adams et al., 2000; Barnhill et al., 1999; Brummer and Pearson, 2002; Guldan et al., 2000; Ingram and David, 1998).
Prospective members of this committee have the expertise to formulate and share research results and conduct outreach programs to assist livestock producers to adopt environmentally and economically sustainable forage and grassland management resulting in reduced forage costs and improved production and greater ecological sustainability of integrated forage-livestock operations in the western U.S.
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