UW Extension’s Gene Gade says range seeding projects require clear goals
Gillette – At their annual meeting, held this year in northeast Wyoming, attendees of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer and Rancher Knowledge Expo gathered for two days to learn about a variety of topics.
This year the group learned about profitable livestock production, diesel technology, ag lending and working with Congressional offices. Also featured at the expo was Crook County UW Extension Educator Gene Gade, who discussed seeding rangelands.
“There are some reasons to seed rangeland, and the main one is feed,” he said. “If you’ve got a situation that’s already deteriorated, not producing and you want to get it back into a high level of productivity, seeding is probably the fastest way.”
However, he said his basic premise is that if restoration can be accomplished through grazing management and natural succession, a landowner probably should.
“There are situations where this sort of thing makes sense,” he said. “In general it is true that seeded grasses do increase productivity, and if you can increase your range production by one and a half to two and a half times, you can have more animal units. It depends on the situation as to whether that’s economic or not.”
He said some special situations that may warrant more intensive production from pastures, like calving or breeding, might make sense for seeding.
“If you’re going to do this or make other management changes, there are some things to pencil out before you commit yourself,” said Gade. “Most times a guy comes to me with a terrible pasture, weed patch or dust bowl and he’ll ask how he can seed it and get it back in one year. I have to ask – is the degraded pasture the real problem? How did it get to be that way?”
Although he said those questions can sometimes be touchy, in a lot of cases the pasture’s situation is due to mismanagement. “The seeding doesn’t address the real problem – it’s an expensive Band-Aid.”
He said to set both biological and economic goals when heading into a seeding project. “You need a clear set of goals and objectives relative to all your other choices. This seeding thing has to be based on a real understanding of what’s possible and what the constraints are,” noted Gade. “Wyoming’s not going to be a rainforest anytime soon.”
He said a lot of people will look at the worst part of their pastures and think that’s where they ought to do the range improvement. “But you need to put your money where you’re going to get a bang for your buck – where the potential improvement is greater. Where you want to put your investment is where you’re going to get a good return.”
Actual costs for seeding will vary depending on machinery, labor and seed. “If you think about the productive value of Wyoming rangeland, you’re probably going to pay as much to get that land into higher productivity as it was worth originally. But, if you can keep the production going over 30 years, it might pay off,” said Gade.
After going to the expense and effort of seeding, Gade said to be sure you’re committed to follow-up management. “I’ve seen people go to tremendous labor and expense putting in an improvement, only to go right back to the practices that caused the problem in the first place and they lose their investment. You’ve got to know how to avoid repeating the problem.”
Part of that follow-up is deferment of grazing, said Gade. “A lot of people don’t think about that. You almost always have to defer grazing for a minimum of one grazing season, and the general recommendation is to defer grazing through the second growing season. A lot of people don’t understand the establishment and deferment costs.”
Another aspect to keep in mind when seeding is noxious weeds. “You have to have a plan to control them, because anytime you break up the soil it’s a potential weed bed,” said Gade.
Of the benefits of seeding, Gade said if establishment is successful the range will have less erosion, better competition against weeds and less loss of moisture from the soil.
But he said the first general question to ask is, is this really necessary? “If you can answer in affirmative, it may be one of the things you want to do. You’ve got to understand that for everything you do there are gains and trade-offs and constraints,” he explained. “You’ve got to follow up with good grazing management and if you don’t you can get a situation that’s worse than what you started with.”
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.