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Defining the Grazing Season of Restored Natural Grassland

26 February 2013

Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Grazing and land management schemes can deliver both production and conservation benefits according to Chris Troendle, Tolif Hunt and Mary Wiedenhoeft at the Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

Grazing cattle on reconstructed prairies is a solution proposed by land managers and grazers in Iowa to the problem of meeting multiple conservation goals. It allows for incorporating perennial, native plants into the Iowa landscape while maintaining the productivity and pro? tability of the state’s agricultural lands.

Whiterock Conservancy, a 5,400-acre nonprofit land trust in west-central Iowa, was created by the Roswell Garst family in 2004. The mission of the conservancy is to foster a “resilient and self-renewing Iowa landscape” and grazing research that would assist cattle producers was a good ? t with that goal. In addition to researching solutions that would work on the conservancy lands, the hope is that the knowledge will be useful to a broader audience.

The objectives were to collect and analyze the forage value of the vegetative component of a reconstructed species-diverse prairie, restored oak savanna and lower diversity warm-season reconstructed prairie across two growing seasons. The information would be used to build a “calendar” that tracks the progression of biomass availability and forage value of the three non-pasture habitat types. The project team sought to understand the nutritional quality and forage quantity of these habitats, and how it changes during the growing season. This will allow producers to better integrate cattle grazing into ecological management of these areas.

Results and Discussion

Cattle in a reconstructed prairie

The results from this study suggest that crude protein and total digestible nutrient needs of beef cows can be met very early in the growing season. However, from June onward, only total digestible nutrients in the prairie forages were sufficient to meet livestock needs. At no point in the season was the dry matter intake requirement of the cattle met. Despite these results, a handful of producers in Iowa and many producers in the south and west parts of the United States have a forage base dominated by warm season grasses and prairie species and are able to maintain their cattle withproper body conditioning scores and achieve profitable enterprises.



Each piece of prairie is different and the interactions that must be considered are plant communities, management goals, history and local environment. When designing and implementing a management strategy that includes grazing, results will vary from location to location. This case study is not meant tofitt every situation.

Reconstructed prairie before pasturing

Based on the information gathered here, Whiterock Conservancy has designed a management strategy to begin grazing in a way that balances agronomic, animal nutrition, economic and ecological considerations. In August 2012, cattle were grazed on a reconstructed prairie for several weeks. The time was selected to avoid grazing during grassland bird nesting season, which ends in July or August. Through this is not the optimal time for high-quality forage production, a large quantity of biomass is available to help maintain livestock body conditioning scores while meeting the ecological goals of Whiterock Conservancy. To address potential nutrient de? ciencies, cattle were monitored and if body condition scores began to fall due to insuf? cient nutrition, grains and higher quality hay were used to supplement prairie forage.

February 2013

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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