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By Anowar Islam, UW Extension Forage Specialist

Cicer milkvetch is a perennial, introduced forage legume. Its growth habit is prostrate to decumbent type, which means it does not normally grow upright. Instead it grows near the soil surface. Generally with advancement of time, it stretches out, lying at full length along the ground. Cicer milkvetch has a hollow lush stem. It has many pairs of leaflets that appear on the main leafstalk, with a terminal leaflet. The leaflet number varies with a range of eight to 17 pairs. These lancelike leaflets are green to dark green in color. This legume can grow up to one to three feet canopy height.

Cicer milkvetch has a wide range of adaptation. It can be grown in a range of soil and climatic conditions, from drylands with more than 12 inches precipitation to irrigated conditions. It prefers calcareous, or high pH, soils, but the plant has the ability to grow moderately on acidic and alkaline soils. It is very winter hardy.

Germination, seedling emergence and establishment of Cicer milkvetch is slow. Compared to alfalfa and sainfoin, Cicer milkvetch starts slow growth in spring when temperature is low, between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it starts slow, especially in the first year of establishment, it develops a lot of rhizomes and becomes aggressive, with a vigorous rhizomatous growth in the following years. It has prolific seed-producing ability and the potential of producing many new plants.

Cicer milkvetch is not very shade tolerant. It can be grown in mixture with some grasses and is compatible with a number of grasses including smooth bromegrass, creeping foxtail and wheatgrasses. Cicer milkvetch is not very compatible with timothy, sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil and red clover. It has very good nitrogen-fixing ability.

Yield of Cicer milkvetch varies depending on the climatic and growing conditions. This legume can produce high yield and excellent quality forage compared to other temperate legumes. A study at the Department of Plant Sciences in the University of Wyoming showed that Cicer milkvetch can produce comparable yield and quality forage as alfalfa, sainfoin and medics.

Cicer milkvetch can be established either in spring or fall. In Wyoming conditions, spring planting works better than fall planting, provided that weeds and existing pasture competition are minimized. The recommended seeding rate is 16-20 pounds per acre. However in mixed planting with grass, the seeding rate would be about half the recommended rate.

Cicer milkvetch has hard seedcoat. Seed scarification or use of older seed is generally recommended. A study at the Department of Plant Sciences of University of Wyoming showed that hard seed content of Cicer milkvetch can be reduced from over 70 percent to below 10 percent with mechanical scarification.

Cicer milkvetch responds well to fertilizers, especially lime, if the soil is acidic. Monocultures and mixtures with grass generally do not require any nitrogen fertilizer. It is highly recommended to use Cicer milkvetch-specific bacterial inoculant to inoculate seeds before planting.

There are several varieties commercially available to purchase. These include Lutana, Monarch, Windsor, Oxley and AC Oxley II. AC Oxley II is a newer variety with improved seedling vigor and forage yield. It is recommended to ask about the correct bacterial inoculant during seed purchase.

Cicer milkvetch is a very good forage legume that can be used for high quality pasture or hay. In the case of grazing, a rotational grazing system is preferred to continuous stocking. It is also suited to conservation as hay because of its dense foliage and high moisture content, making it more difficult to dry than other legumes. Careful hay handling is necessary during the hay making process to avoid any loss in nutritional quality.

Limited pest infestation has been reported in Cicer milkvetch. However some root, crown and stem rot diseases can be found in this legume. Strong rhizomatous growth habit enables it to resist any adverse effects.

Cicer milkvetch is a very good legume species with high yield, excellent forage quality, high persistence and good nitrogen fixing ability. It is a non-bloat-inducing legume, meaning it provides less potential for bloat problems. Additionally, it is a species that allows for wildlife and has potential for soil erosion control and reclamation of disturbed lands because of its aggressive rhizomatous growth habit.

Anowar Islam is an associate professor and the University of Wyoming Extension forage specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

By John Ritten, UW Extension Economist

A lot of advice these days seems to be focused on cutting costs, with overhead costs getting a lot of the attention. As an economist, I whole-heartedly agree that we should not spend money that doesn’t add to our operation. However, I think it is too easy to start cutting costs that don’t appear to be needed and end up hurting our operation in the long run.

When cost cutting, it is important to understand the long-term implications of our actions including any added risks that may be incurred. There is no “silver bullet” that will ensure profitability in any given year. It is important to have a thorough understanding of the linkages in your system – across and among separate enterprises – before making drastic changes in order to cut costs.

In the cow/calf industry, a lot of the “war on costs” proponents seem to advocate the elimination of the hay enterprise on a ranch. While it is often more expensive to put up your own hay as compared to buying hay on the open market and the move eliminates the machinery costs associated with haying/stacking/hauling, there are two reasons I would think very hard before making such a drastic decision.

The first is that while in an average year you may be able to buy hay cheaper than you can produce it, there will be years where hay prices spike, and I am fairly confident you can produce hay cheaper than you can buy it in those years. You need to look at the frequency that your costs exceed the market price and by what margin.

The second reason I have concerns for eliminating an on-ranch hay enterprise is tied to risk. The years when hay prices spike are probably the years when you need hay the most. You really place yourself at the mercy of the market when you rely on others to supply your fed feed.

Another risk to consider is that you have to be concerned with the quality and any weeds that may be introduced when buying someone else’s hay. Instead of eliminating a less profitable hay enterprise, putting ourselves at risk both in terms of high prices when we need hay and potentially inviting weeds onto our ranch, we should buckle down and focus on how we can improve the profitability of the hay enterprise.

A lot of these sorts of recommendations really aim at cutting the underperforming enterprises and focusing on the profitable ones, but sometimes we just need to focus a little more attention and sometimes money on the struggling enterprises in order to bring them up to speed.

To illustrate why cutting overhead costs is not a sure-fire way to increase profits, here’s an example from Kansas.

The Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA) recently released their annual profit summaries. I’ll focus on the wheat farmers just to illustrate a point. While farming and ranching are very different activities, wheat farmers are also often low-input, low-margin commodity producers, so I think we can learn something from this report.

The KFMA data shows that the most profitable wheat farmers actually often have the highest overhead costs. In fact, the top 20 percent of operations in terms of profitability spend more on machinery and depreciation than any other group. When I first read that, I have to admit I was kind of surprised. But when looking into the report a little deeper, a few things jumped out at me.

We need to remember that total costs are comprised of overhead and operating costs. The farmers with higher overhead costs were able to reduce their per-unit of output operating costs while also eliminating some production risk. From a wheat farmer’s perspective, it often pays to have machinery that works when you need it, and larger machinery allows you to get the wheat out of the field in a timely manner. To get the wheat out of the field, larger equipment allows you to cover more ground, and newer equipment breaks down less often, leaving it available when you need. Both larger and newer equipment makes farming easier and reduces some production risk but also adds to overhead costs.

Now back to cattle. The KFMA also recently published cattle profit summaries. When looking at the cow/calf sector, the most profitable herds did have lower costs than the least profitable but not by much. The most profitable herds actually had higher costs than the middle third of producers.

The main difference that made high profit herds profitable was a difference in per-cow revenues. While high profit herds had 18 percent lower expenses than low profit herds, the high profit herds had almost 40 percent higher revenues on a per-cow basis. Calf prices were on average $15 per hundredweight higher than their low profit counterparts.

This is where, I think, wheat farmers differ most from cow/calf producers. While calves are still technically a commodity, there is a much wider range in selling price for calves than wheat. No two lots of calves bring the same price at the sale barn, which implies we can have some impact on the prices we receive. Therefore, I think it is even more important in this industry to make sure we spend the right amount of money to ensure a quality product.

Sure, if you can cut costs without impacting output, go for it. However, it is very important to make sure that when you cut costs, you are not also cutting revenues as well. This is why I stress the need to be cautious when cutting overhead. It is sometimes difficult to see how these costs contribute to our operation, but they do interact with both the quality and quantity of output we are able to produce as well as the operational costs we incur.

From an overhead perspective, if you are artificialy inseminating your heifers, having better facilities and the related overhead costs associated with them will likely make working them easier, reduce labor costs and might even result in better conception rates, especially if you are able to work your heifers more efficiently. Or, if you rely on hired labor, are you more likely to keep good, trained hired help on if you keep them supplied with new trucks and equipment? It might be better to keep the good workers happy, rather than continually having to hire people to fill the vacancies as good people move on to better operations.

Also, when cutting costs, make sure you look at the long run. Cutting costs may make money this year, but what about the next drought or major blizzard? How much worse off will you be then? Don’t make any decisions based on a year or two worth of data. Run the numbers over a decade, with varying weather and cattle dynamics, to see how likely this is to pay off on average, not just in years with good forage, low feed costs and strong calf prices.

The “war on costs” can be an effective management strategy, but to do it right, make sure you put in enough time and energy to make sure you understand the implications of lower costs and surgically cut the right ones, leaving the valuable costs intact. While you’re at it, I would challenge you to find some good costs you should increase. Regardless, remember only the unnecessary costs are bad, but I’d happily spend $1 to make $1.01. I’d do it a million times a day if I could.

 

By Derek Scasta, UW Extension Range Specialist

Since this is my first article for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, I wanted to take a minute and introduce myself.  My name is Derek Scasta, and I started as an assistant professor and Extension range specialist at the University of Wyoming in August of 2014. 

Prior to coming to Wyoming I served as an Extension educator in Texas for almost seven years. Then I went back to graduate school to complete a Ph.D. at Oklahoma State University. My doctoral research program focused on how disturbances on rangelands, such as fire and drought, and management, such as stocking rate and timing of grazing, influence cattle distribution, parasites, plant community composition and structure, plant succession, shrub regeneration and production. 

I have been charged by the University of Wyoming to conduct Extension, research and teaching focused on the interaction between plants and herbivores. Over the last year I started projects in Wyoming focused on sheep and cattle grazing, livestock-wildlife interactions, including prairie dogs, livestock and wildlife responses to fire, toxic plants, parasites, predators and animal nutrition. 

With that said, I really hope to work with the Wyoming ranching community in dealing with the most challenging issues. My grandfather and great-grandfather were both supportive of Extension education programs in Texas, and they believed Extension was important to the operation and success of the farm and ranch. Because I know that ranchers today are facing increasing challenges and pressures that make ranching an increasingly complex enterprise, I hope to help you all navigate those challenges for the long-term viability of your operations.    

One of the ways I hope to provide more information for you is by the creation of a blog that will give you access to the most recent and relevant scientific research.  The idea for the blog actually started in southwestern Wyoming when I was visiting with a rancher who was trying to access and understand new research dealing with range cattle production.  The rancher couldn’t always access the research because he was not associated with a library that pays for journal access, and at times, the papers were very difficult to even comprehend. These papers can be difficult to read because they are often written by scientists for scientists but not for the rest of us. My job as an Extension professional is to bring that information to you in a way that is easy and efficient to understand. Given the many environmental, economic, political and social pressures facing rangeland agriculture and conservation, I think it is imperative that you have the most current scientific studies that agencies and government will be using to make decisions.   

The new blog titled “Rangelands4u” can be found at wyoextension.org/rangelands4u. I will provide brief summaries of the most recent and relevant research to rangelands in Wyoming. You can subscribe with an email address to be notified when new posts have been added.  Posts will typically be a single paragraph and will summarize the key findings from the latest research. 

If you have any ideas for the type of research you would like to see covered in the blog you can email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By Jeremiah Vardiman, UW Northeast Area Extension Educator



Like our dry bean producers in the Bighorn Basin, Gustavo Sbatella waited this spring for the weather to let up enough to get his new research trial planted at the University of Wyoming’s Powell Research and Extension Center.

Sbatella is an assistant professor for the University of Wyoming with a focus in irrigated crops and weed management. His new two-year study focuses on herbicide carryover of pre-emergent herbicides used in dry beans and corn cropping systems, where carryover is the amount of herbicide that remains in soil from the previous year.

Pre-emergent herbicides are applied soon after planting but before the crop emerges. They can be incorporated into the soil through water or mechanical means. These soil-applied herbicides are an important tool for our farmers when it comes to fighting herbicide resistant weeds.

You are probably asking yourself, “Why is there interest in herbicide carryover in the soil. Doesn’t the herbicide label tell you that?”

You are correct that the herbicide residual duration is on the label. However, since the degradation of herbicides in the soil is influenced by environmental factors, the time stated in the label is the estimated breakdown under optimal conditions.

Herbicide degradation in soil is mainly the result of hydrolysis and microbial activity, with temperature and soil moisture being the main environmental factors affecting herbicide carryover. Therefore any water shortages, which could result from limited irrigation, drought conditions or others, could provide conditions to make the herbicide remain longer in the soil resulting in affects to the following crop and, depending on the magnitude of the affect, could be partial or total yield loss.

Sbatella has designed a study with 100 percent, 85 percent and 70 percent irrigation levels to mimic various levels of water shortages and to provide enough distinction in the data to identify the effects on herbicide carryover. These irrigation treatments will be applied to dry bean and corn crops that have been treated with the four different pre-emergent herbicides to each crop. Moisture levels within the field will be monitored through data loggers, and soil samples will be utilized to determine herbicide persistence, along with other data such as weed counts and crop yield.

The next growing season in 2016, the corn and dry bean fields will be divided into thirds to plant three rotational crops. Sugarbeets, dry beans and sunflowers will be planted in the corn plot, and sugarbeets, corn and sunflower in the dry bean plots. Moisture levels and soil samples will still be recorded along with herbicide effects and yield for these rotational crops.

Through this study, Sbatella is hoping to provide growers in the Big Horn Basin with pertinent local information regarding herbicide carry over and provide solid baseline data to apply for more grants to move this research project to a larger scale that includes other locations and variables such as tillage.

For more information on this research project, please contact Gustavo Sbatella at the University of Wyoming’s Powell Research and Extension Center at 307-754-2223.