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Returning CRP Acres To Rangeland

The same grasses used for High Plains crop and rangelands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the mid 1980s can

The same grasses used for High Plains crop and rangelands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the mid 1980s can help producers as that ground returns to production.

“About 10 years ago when we first started seeing people come out of the program, we realized we would not be making the same amount as with government payments. But, we know properly managed old world bluestem and weeping love grass can produce more beef per acre than native rangelands in the region,” says Ted McCollum, Texas AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist. He explains those were the grasses primarily used on new CRP ground in the state’s High Plains region.

For producers renewing production of these native grass stands, McCollum suggests applying the same management practices recommended for maintaining the productivity and health of rangelands in the region. These include attention to forage utilization, maintaining adequate groundcover and residue, and seasonal deferment of grazing. Carrying capacity or stocking rate will possibly be somewhat higher than on rangeland.

“Consider whether you need seasonal or year-round grazing. Make sure you can accommodate a rest period before dormancy on the grass,” McCollum says. “Your nutritional management of the cattle will be similar as that on rangeland.”

In either case, McCollum points out water is a primary consideration and runs in tandem with fencing requirements. Planning must be based on how much water will be required daily and location of the watering site. These decisions must also take into account fencing layouts and grazing management plans, so a producer should formulate some ideas on the overall operation and use of the land before developing livestock water.

“Remember, cattle consume water in one or two drinking bouts per day, which means they take in a lot of water at once,” McCollum says. “Watering tends to be a herd activity on large acreage, but an individual activity on small acreage, so that affects the storage and refill rate required.”

As for renovating the native grass stands, McCollum says the first step is to remove the standing, decadent plant material and some of the thatch that can stifle developing tillers and seedlings. Prescribed burning in the late winter or early spring is the easiest way.

“The material also can be cut and baled. If thatch buildup is a problem, though, don’t mow the area and leave the mowed forage on the ground. Other means are shredding, disking or mob grazing during the forage’s dormant season. Animal performance may be sacrificed with mob grazing, but this may be a more acceptable approach for some,” he adds.

In terms of characteristic and use, McCollum says weeping love grass initiates growth from late March to early April. Because of its rapid growth and decline in nutritional value, management can be a challenge and spot grazing can be a problem. In addition, love grass must be deferred from September until after frost.

“The best management practice is to use rotational grazing for a limited time during the growing season followed by removal of the excess residue during the dormant season,” McCollum says. He explains maximum nutritional value of weeping love grass occurs for 60-80 days beginning in late April. Grazing during the growing season should be focused from May through July. In the winter, love grass residue is acceptable as forage for cows and stockers if supplemented with protein.

Conversely, old world bluestem initiates growth in mid to late May, McCollum says. It can be managed under year-round continuous grazing but works best under rotational and limited grazing. Nutritional value and weight gains are good for 60-80 days beginning in June. During the winter, dormant Old World Bluestem can be grazed by cows or stockers with a protein supplement.

In terms of specific management, for weeping love grass, McCollum recommends:

  • Remove old growth prior to spring green-up by grazing, burning or mowing.

  • Fertilize nitrogen in 30-lb. increments beginning in April.

  • Accumulate 6 in. of new spring growth before turnout.

  • Rotationally graze using 21- to 40-day intervals; grazing only 3-7 days on a paddock and then deferring.

  • Cut or graze to a 4-in. stubble during each rotation cycle with grazing or hay harvest.

  • Control spot grazing.

  • Rest during September, October and November and then graze aftermath in the winter.

  • Use as a part of a forage system in combination with other range and pasture resources.
Key management steps for old world bluestem are similar, McCollum says, but fertilize in a single application of 30-50 lbs. of nitrogen in May. In addition, rotational grazing should be based on 30- to 45-day cycles with 4-7 days grazing on each paddock.