Irrigated Pasture Procedures Pump Profits for Cattle Producers
A little water and an annual planting of the right grass seed can go a long way toward increasing the bottom line for cattle producers, especially if they are part of an irrigated pasture practice incorporating the latest technology and methods.
Frank Hendrix, WSU Extension educator in Yakima and this year’s Yakima County Cattleman of the Year, is testing new grasses and pasturing techniques at plots in the Yakima Valley. So far, the results have translated into substantial savings for producers, especially in winter feed costs.
At work and at home, Hendrix supplements the perennial grasses in his irrigated pastures with an annual planting of primarily cool season grasses — orchard grass, fall fescue and rye — mixed with legumes, red clover, white clover or alfalfa. The latter are natural nitrogen fixers that “greatly reduce the amount of fertilizer we need,” Hendrix said.
With that planting in August, a pasture can be grazed in late fall, over winter and early spring in addition to the traditional season. It increases the grazing season by about 80 days, according to Hendrix.
“Each day of added grazing means a day less winter feeding expense,” he said. “Each day of grazing means the cattle are not in confinement, and the manure is out on the field where there is no negative effect.”
It makes sense financially, too. “For every dollar it costs to put in that annual mix, we’ve been able to graze $11,” he said. “That’s not too bad.”
Hendrix also uses some new grazing techniques to maximize profits and lower costs.
In addition to the portable, high voltage electric fence developed in the 1970s to split large pastures into smaller paddocks, he now uses “tumble wheels,” rolling dividers that allow cattle to graze in six-foot-per-day increments. “They give a rest stage for the grass, which is a lot better for the grass and makes the pasture a lot more productive,” he said.
He noted that irrigated pasture has been found to fix approximately eight tons of carbon per acre. His next project? Exploring how to tie solar panels into the irrigation electrical grid to reduce producer costs even more.
Reaping More Rewards from Crop Residues
Wheat and barley producers in Washington state’s Palouse region can refine crop residue management to build soil organic matter, curb soil erosion, retain soil moisture and maximize crop yields, thanks to research conducted at WSU in collaboration with Agricultural Research Service scientists.
ARS soil scientist Ann Kennedy and Tami Stubbs of WSU worked with other WSU and ARS colleagues to conduct a two-year study of post-harvest crop residues to identify links between decomposition processes and fiber and nutrient characteristics of the straw.
The researchers looked at residues from 17 cultivars of winter wheat, 16 cultivars of spring wheat and nine cultivars of spring barley grown at four locations in southeastern Washington. Crop residues decompose into soil organic matter, which provides nutrients to crops, limits erosion and helps retain soil moisture. Rapidly decomposing cultivars are less likely to impede no-till seeding in higher rainfall areas where more straw is produced.
The identification of differences in these crop characteristics could help growers select cultivars that produce residues best adapted to reduced-tillage cultivation. These residues may also benefit subsequent crop establishment, maximize soil organic matter to improve yield and increase carbon stored in the soil.
Biofuel Feedstock Field Day
Researchers from WSU, Columbia Basin College and USDA-ARS are hosting a public field day highlighting switchgrass and other perennial warm-season grasses that can be used as feedstocks for ethanol biorefineries and as forage. The focus of the field day will be to learn about the ongoing cellulosic bioenergy research being conducted by CBC, ARS and WSU.
Participants will see warm-season perennial grasses growing with various quantities of applied irrigation water to determine water use efficiency. The field day is just before the first cutting of feedstock materials suitable for harvesting as biomass for a second-generation biorefinery.
Researchers will discuss irrigation and weed management, stand establishment, rooting, varieties, fertilization and biomass yields for the cellulosic ethanol industry. This is an opportunity to see the grasses and learn what it takes to grow them.
The field day takes place at the WSU Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center at Roza Research Unit, Prosser, Wash., on July 2 from 6:30 – 8 p.m.
For more information, please contact June Trimble at WSU-Prosser (509) 786-9232 or Steve Fransen (509) 786-9266.