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Researchers study high-elevation hay meadows

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

University of Wyoming (UW) researchers will study soil health and factors  limiting yield in high-elevation irrigated hay meadows on 12 ranch sites in Wyoming and Colorado as part of a $500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant. 

“This is a very cool project we’re excited about,” said UW Extension Soils Specialist Jay Norton, who is heading the project. The project began in January and will run through 2024. 

Study overview 

He said the sites are in the Laramie River Basin in Wyoming and the North Park valley in northern Colorado. 

Norton, in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, said irrigated meadows above 6,500 feet are critical, but underperforming components of livestock operations in rangeland ecosystems. 

“We think it’s important because flood-irrigated grass hay is one of the most widespread crops in Wyoming and producers agree hay meadows are generally an underperforming resource which requires an increasing amount of nitrogen fertilizer to maintain productivity over time,” said Norton. 

Norton leads a group of researchers from UW including Mengqiang Zhu and Linda van Diepen in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management; Urszula Norton in the Department of Plant Sciences and Brian Sabade, UW Extension educator. Colorado State University researchers on the project include Forage Specialist Joe Brummer.  

Former UW students Daniel Adamson, from a ranch outside Laramie and Rael Otuya, from Kitale, Kenya, have returned to earn PhDs in soil science working on the project. 

Project objectives 

The scientists will evaluate soil processes and vegetation which affect nitrogen availability. This includes looking at soil health indicators, analyzing soil organic matter chemical composition, soil microbial ecology and soil greenhouse gases.  

The information helps set the second objective, which is identifying key soil properties as a minimum dataset for meadow health. 

The third goal will be at the Laramie Research and Extension Center. 

“We will evaluate novel ways to disturb the dense root mat using hoof impact from controlled cattle concentration, and light shallow rototilling, then planting a mixture of clovers to increase diversity and forage value,” said Norton. 

The fourth goal, which includes exchanging information among researchers, producers, Extension Educators and others, entails monthly meetings with cooperating ranchers and annual progress meetings open to the public, he said. 

“Participants will be invited to participate in data collection activities, plus an end-of-project workshop to share findings and discuss new management approaches,” said Norton. 

For more information, Norton can be reached at 307-766-5082 or at 

This article was written by University of Wyoming Extension Senior Editor Dr. Steve Miller and is courtesy of the University of Wyoming. Miller can be reached at For more information, visit 

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