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Grazing

Casper – Annual bromes are characterized by rapid growth and high seed production, and high spring or fall precipitation favors their germination.
    It’s those characteristics that make the grasses difficult to control, a subject Lance Vermiere of USDA’s Agriculture Research Service at Ft. Keogh near Miles City, Mont. addressed at the early December Range Beef Cow Symposium in Casper.
    “If they don’t get the fall moisture, you won’t have bromes,” said Vermiere, noting the grasses germinate in the fall. “Some will germinate the first year the seed’s produced, but most will germinate the second fall. That gives us management opportunities we don’t get with a lot of other species.”
    However, he said bromes are very erratic. “You can’t count on them,” he said. “Plus, there’s a brief window where they’re high in forage quality, but it’s so brief it’s difficult to take advantage of it. Quality factors are dependant on precipitation, disturbance, litter and temperature, among other things, and you can’t count on any given level of production from these species.”
    Because annual bromes mature so early in the growing season they bring overall forage quality down and compete with the preferred forage species. “Japanese brome is very deficient in forage quality most times, and it’s higher quality than cheatgrass,” said Vermiere.
    However, he noted the seedheads of Japanese brome are high quality, so livestock may selectively graze them, which can be used to the advantage of livestock producers. “It’s fairly good stuff for a brief period,” he said.
    Vermiere’s talk highlighted research results in controlling bromes through grazing management, chemical control and fire.
    “With any form of control we’re talking about control of the seedbank,” he said. “A lot of things we do may have a short-term effect, but if we don’t reduce the seed bank it’ll snap back quickly.”
    He said control through herbicide requires specific timing. “With glyphosate, or Roundup, you have to apply it when the other preferred species aren’t actively growing,” he explained. “We’re looking at using growth regulating herbicides like 2,4-D that would normally be used to control broadleaf weeds.”
    “From a history with row crops, people have accidentally sprayed wheat with 2,4-D and noticed a lot of the seeds go sterile,” said Vermiere.
    A study applied 2,4-D, Picloram and Dicama to Japanese brome at different stages of growth – seedling, internode, boot and heading. Although no results were seen with 2,4-D, Vermiere said there were sharp reductions in the percentage of viable seeds with the other two herbicides.
    “There was 100 percent reduction in viability when they were applied late when the plants were heading out,” he said. “That’s encouraging, but it was also in a greenhouse situation under a controlled environment.”
    When the trial was taken to the field slightly different herbicides were used – aminopyralid .5, aminopyralid 1 or picloram.
    “What we saw was even better than the controlled situation,” noted Vermiere. “Anywhere from 61 to 70 percent of seeds were viable at first, and after herbicide application we had five percent viability, and generally less than two percent.”
    Vermiere said it didn’t matter at what stage the herbicides were applied; there was always good control. “That really broadened the window during which we can apply control,” he said.
    He said that broader window is important because often brome production isn’t synchronized, with later plants emerging.
    Regarding the use of grazing or clipping as control, Vermiere said in a controlled situation frequently clipping plants to six inches or three inches reduced their productivity. “It does work,” he said. “Graze down close to three inches and you’ll reduce productivity. The bromes will still use resources, but they’ll use less of them.”
    “There are much higher amounts of brome in pastures rested in the spring and allowed to build up litter,” he explained. “Litter can increase soil moisture near the surface, and that can allow brome plants to germinate when they might not have otherwise.”
    Concerning the fact that animals will selectively graze the seed heads, Vermiere said some work has shown grazing in June when the plants head out can reduce the soil seed bank by 50 percent.
    “If you have a brome problem in an area, we recommend you graze that during early spring and going into June, when you’ve got the highest forage quality and when the plants are most susceptible to removal of their flowers and can’t produce more seeds,” he said.
    He said researchers have also determined repeated early spring grazing can reduce brome growth, suggesting those pastures be used for calving, but noting that will also affect the preferred forage species. “It’s a delicate balance in intensity,” he said.
    The last control measure Vermiere discussed was fire. “We’re encouraged with a lot of results from fire control,” he said. “Fire has multiple effects on brome.”
    He said one is direct consumption of seeds in the canopy, litter layer or soil surface. However, a grassland fire won’t affect seeds buried. “When the plants first germinate they’re susceptible as seedlings to direct mortality, and fire can also reduce litter so they won’t germinate in the first place.”
    Fires were conducted in spring, summer and fall. “Fire in any season reduces the density of bromes by almost 50 percent,” explained Vermiere.
    “More than the season, control by fire depends more on fire conditions,” he added. “Just because you can get a fire doesn’t mean it’ll burn all your fuel.”
    “If you’ve got dry enough fuels to carry a fire down to the soil surface, but the litter layer is moist the fire won’t burn as well and it will reduce the ability to consume seeds in the fire,” he said. “That’s why we get better results from summer fires.”
    Not only have researchers seen reductions in Japanese brome and cheatgrass following fire, but it also promotes a positive response from the preferred species.
    Although cheatgrass is moving into Wyoming, Vermiere said he doesn’t think the Great Plains will turn into the Great Basin with a cheatgrass-dominated grassland. “It’s a serious issue, but the difference between the two sites is what species are available,” he said. “The perennial sod-forming grasses tend to be able to compete better than the bunch grasses farther west.”
    Although all three methods of chemical, grazing and fire provide effective control, Vermiere said they each tend to be short term.
    “We’re looking at integrating and timing them to coincide with weather events,” he said. “It’s something we’d like to do in cooperation with range management, because the bromes germinate in the fall and we can predict months ahead of time what will happen.”
    He said he’s looking at following grazing and fire treatments with herbicide treatments to rapidly reduce the brome seedbank. “Brome seeds are short-lived,” he said. “They’re viable two or three years and after that it’s greatly reduced. These three methods together could give us a one-two punch in control.”
    Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“There has been a renewed interest in irrigated pasture,” said Jerry Volesky, in a University of Nebraska webinar recorded in December 2014.

He noted that 2014 had strong pasture demand and low grain commodity prices. 

Warm, cool-season grass

“Producers have the option of either warm-season or cool-season grasses for perennials in irrigated pasture,” he explained.

Cool-season grasses usually begin growth in the spring, late March to early April, with rapid growth in May and early June.

“They will decline in growth rate in the warm summer months and pick up again a little in the fall, when temperatures cool down,” said Volesky.

Warm season grasses usually show initial growth in May, with the most rapid growth in late June and early July.

“By early September, warm-season grasses have mostly completed their growth for the season,” he stated.

He also noted that they go into dormancy soon after the season’s first frost.

“Overall, we tend to see more cool-season grasses used in irrigated pasture,” he said.

Mixes

One standard mix that has been successful contains orchard grass, meadow brome, smooth brome and creeping foxtail. Including alfalfa or another legume is also an option.

“Wheatgrasses, in general, have very good spring production compared to some of the other cool-season grasses, but they don’t produce as well in the heat of the summer,” he said.

Rye grasses, Volesky observed, establish easily and quickly and have long-term persistence.

“I tend to favor mixtures over a single species,” he stated.

“Mixtures have advantages over a monoculture because there is better adaptability to soil conditions or moisture across a field.”

Also, different species have different growth patterns throughout the season, as well as variation in insect and disease resistance, persistence and winter hardiness, he explained.

Grass growth

“Another important point is the growth form of these grasses, such as bunchgrass versus sod-forming grasses,” said Volesky.

He noted that it is important to have a good mix of both types in irrigated pasture.

“There are number of commercially available seed mixes,” he said.

Using one example, he notes a combination of 75 percent meadow grass with 25 percent orchard grass.

“Orchard grass has a relatively small seed, so the number of seeds per pound will be different than the meadow grass. This mix will likely grow a 50 percent meadow grass and 50 percent orchard grass forage,” he explained.

Legumes

Volesky also suggested incorporating legumes to help maintain nitrogen levels in the soil.

“Alfalfa is most common, as well the most productive and easy to establish, legume,” he said.

Other options include red or white clover, birdsfoot trefoil and cicer milkvetch.

He noted that some producers are concerned about bloat in their animals when using legumes in their seed mixture.

“Using a relatively small amount of alfalfa, for example 10 to 20 percent of the forage, minimizes the risk of bloat,” he says.

Birdsfoot trefoil is considered a “safe” legume because it has a high concentration of lignin, which prevents bloat, according to Volesky.

Limited supply

For producers with limited irrigation, switchgrass, big bluestem and Indian grass are appropriate warm-season grasses for an eight- to 12-inch supply of irrigation water. 

Smooth bromegrass, meadow brome, orchard grass and intermediate wheatgrass, along with alfalfa and cicer milkvetch, are appropriate cool-season species.

“In four to eight inches of irrigation water supply, some people tend to favor wheatgrasses because they are known for extensive and deep-rooting systems, as well as for drought tolerance,” Volesky said.

He suggested intermediate wheatgrass, pubescent wheatgrass and alfalfa for this limited water supply.

“Overall, when comparing warm and cool-season characteristics for irrigation, cool-season grasses have the advantage,” says Volesky.

Cool-season varieties have longer growing periods, establish more quickly, generally cost less and typically have a better response to fertilizer, grazing and irrigation water, he noted.

Mixing seasons

“I generally do not favor mixing warm and cool-season grasses,” he continued.

Volesky explained that it presents a challenge in irrigating, fertilizing and grazing.

“Also, the cool-season grasses tend to dominate, over time,” he stated.

Planting separate acres is an option, he continued, suggesting a 25 percent warm-season to 75 percent cool-season ratio of acres. 

He noted that managing this system involves grazing the cool-season grasses in the spring and early summer.

“When the warm-season grasses come up, the producer would rotate over to those acres,” he explained.

Cool-season acres would be again grazed in the fall, when temperatures begin to drop.

“A producer could also rotate over the summer, as needed, to balance the grazing,” Volesky said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As ranchers seek out feed resources to supplement their cattle through the winter, cornstalk bales can be a possibility, but producers need to have it tested and be prepared to feed a supplement with it.
    Many producers assume baled cornstalks are equal in value to grazing a cornfield, but the two are vastly different, explained Aaron Berger, Extension Educator in Nebraska. When grazing a field of cornstalks, the cows get a higher quality diet early on because they go through and eat all the downed corn, leaves and husks, which are of higher feed value and leave the low-quality stalks for last.
    When eating a cornstalk bale, the stalks are in the bale with the husks and leaves, so the cattle are consuming a lower quality forage to start with. In fact, Berger said a cornstalk bale isn’t of much higher quality than feeding cattle wheat straw.
Test the bale
    “Cornstalk bales need to be tested just like any other hay,” according to Berger.
    The bales can be sampled using a hay probe, but it is important to get a good, representative sample.
    “A good bale probe, when it’s sampled, should give you a fairly accurate representation of what’s in the bale,” Berger said. “I think if you have 50 bales, I would try to get a good core sample from at least a third of them. Mix those core samples together thoroughly and send them in for analysis.”
    Berger recommends having cornstalk bales analyzed by a lab using the wet chemistry method, rather than an NIR. A wet chemistry analysis determines the actual crude protein, energy and total digestible nutrients.
    He also stressed the importance of having the sample analyzed for nitrates.
    “It will cost about $12 more, but it is important information to have. There is the potential for higher nitrate levels this year, than we would normally have, because of the drought,” he said.
    Twelve dollars would seem relatively inexpensive if you don’t have it tested and a cow gets sick or dies from nitrate poisoning.
    Each laboratory has different procedures for reporting nitrate levels, but typically they provide a range, and let the producer know where the sample ranks.
    “Bales high in nitrates can be managed,” Berger said. “You have to be careful with pregnant cows, but weaned calves or replacement heifers that aren’t pregnant can utilize a little higher nitrate feed, adjust to it and still be okay. It can also be blended with other feeds.”
Improving the quality
    “The most effective way to feed a cornstalk bale is by grinding it or mixing it with some other feed,” Berger explained.
    The quality of grinding is also important. If the stalks are finely ground or pulverized, the cattle will consume more, and there will be less waste. In some instances, Berger said farmers may take the spreader off the combine when harvesting the corn, so what is baled up is leaves and husks. But most of the time, the bales will also contain the stalks.
    The trick of feeding cornstalk bales is getting the cow to consume as much of the bale as possible. Berger estimates the cow will waste nearly a third of the bale, most of which will be uneaten stalks. By grinding the bale and feeding it with a supplement like alfalfa, distiller’s grains or some corn, producers can provide the cows with the additional energy and protein they need, beyond what the cornstalk bale can provide.
Balance the ration
    If producers are considering cornstalk bales, Berger cautions them to make sure the cow is receiving a balanced ration.
    “You can’t just feed a cow cornstalk bales, especially just prior to calving, and expect her to hold herself together. You need to feed a supplement to go along with it,” he said. “What supplement a producer feeds is going to vary with the quality of the cornstalk bale, the nutrient requirements of the cow, and what stage of production she is in. April to May and May to June calving cows may not need much supplement if they are in good body condition,” he explained. “However, if the cows will calve in January or February, they will need a pretty good supplement to go with the cornstalk bales, in order to maintain their body condition.”
    “Once the bales have been tested, I would encourage producers to work with an Extension person experienced in formulating rations or a feed dealer to formulate a ration that will meet their goals, especially if they are feeding something they aren’t familiar with,” he said.
    Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Cornstalks may be in abundant supply
    University of Nebraska Extension Educator Aaron Berger estimates that in Nebraska alone, 10 million acres of corn will be harvested this fall. Some researchers estimate in past years, only 25 percent of the available cornstalks in Nebraska were utilized.
    “That is a lot of corn residue that could be a potential source of feed for the cows during a year when we don’t have anything else,” he said. “It provides ranchers an opportunity to find something to feed their cattle. Distiller’s grains are expensive, but if they are combined with cornstalk bales, it will get the cow through the winter months.”
    Although most producers prefer to graze a cornfield, some have to bring cornstalk bales to the cow if there is no access to water, fences are difficult to put up, or the farmer won’t allow cattle to graze the cornfield.




As cattle come off summer ranges to their fall and winter pastures, Steve Paisley, UW Extension beef specialist, says that corn residue and fourth cutting alfalfa are options that producers have for grazing cattle. 

“Sometimes we also have residue from dry beans,” Paisley adds, “but the way we harvest today, there isn’t as much as far as residue left.”

Cornstalks

When grazing cornstalks, Paisley notes that this year, there shouldn’t be as many concerns for producers to worry about as in the drought years seen recently. 

“We can always come up with a bad situation, but for the most part, we had a wet year, so we don’t have to worry about nitrates as much,” he comments. 

In general, when put on a cornfield to graze, Paisley says cattle will first seek the ear corn and kernels left over from harvest. 

“A lot of times, if ranchers have any problems grazing cornstalks it will likely be in the first week because the cattle seek out the grain left in the field,” he explains. “If there was trouble during harvest or there was an area where there was more ear drop in the field, we can have problems.” 

After cattle have eliminated the excess corn in the field, they eat the husk and leaves, then work their way down to the stalks and to more course material. 

“We typically say that corn is at its best quality when we turn out,” Paisley says. “If we leave cattle out on stalks for a period of time, the stalks and remaining residue are exposed to the elements, so they decrease in quality.”

Because cattle select the highest quality feed first, in some situations they may need supplement toward the latter end of their time on cornstalks. 

“If a producers figures they are going to be on the field for 990 days, we save supplementation for the second half of that period,” Paisley describes. “That is when the combination of two things happens. First, the quality of the remaining forage drops. Second, we are getting into colder weather.”

At the same time, the cow’s nutritional requirements increase as she nears calving. 

“At that point, the cows can benefit from some protein supplement,” he says. 

Alfalfa

Grazing fourth cutting alfalfa presents a separate set of challenges, Paisley says. 

“Trying to decide when cows can go in on fourth cutting alfalfa is our top concern,” he comments. “We have to wait until the fourth cutting is completely killed.”

If the alfalfa isn’t completely dead, the soluble proteins in the plant can cause bloat in cattle, particularly in calves and yearling cattle. 

“Weaned or young calves seem to be much more susceptible to bloat, and if we turn them out too soon, that is the perfect scenario to see problems,” Paisley explains. 

After a partial freeze can be more damaging, he continues. 

“If alfalfa has gone through a partial freeze, the cells are ruptured,” Paisley says. “That makes the soluble proteins that cause bloat more accessible. A partially frozen field provides high risk.”

Before turning cattle out onto the fourth cutting of alfalfa, Paisley encourages producers to make sure the crop is completely yellow and dead. 

Finally, if any questions or concerns remain, Paisley encourages producers to contact their local Extension specialist for more information. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    As cows move from dry summer pastures to more lush lower meadows, UW Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley says to beware of pulmonary emphysema, or cow asthma.
    Cow asthma is a nutritional disease that occurs when rumen bacteria convert an amino acid, tryptophan, to a toxic compound that causes an allergic reaction in the lungs. Because late-summer moisture in parts of Wyoming has caused some lower meadows to green up, this can increase the risk of cow asthma occurring when cows are moved in for the winter.
    “Generally in Wyoming cow asthma occurs when cattle are moved from dry summer pastures to more lush irrigated pastures in the fall,” says Wyoming State Veterinary Lab Director Don Montgomery. “It can occur as a herd outbreak with several animals affected or with only one affected, but it usually occurs within two weeks of the pasture change.”
    He says the disease usually affects adult animals and that younger animals are less susceptible. “The disease is involved with the process of the rumen’s metabolism of lush grasses, so there may be more poison produced by more mature rumen flora,” he explains.
    Symptoms of cow asthma are labored respiration, with heads commonly held low and stretched out.
    “You really do have to be careful with these animals, because if they’re stressed and forced to move rapidly they can just keel over and die,” says Montgomery. “Their lungs are so severely compromised that any kind of forced movement or excitement can push them over the edge.”
    Wyoming Assistant State Veterinarian Jim Logan says at that point it’s important to work them slowly because they can die from suffocation simply from the exertion.
    Paisley says it’s the sort of situation where you leave the dog in the pickup. “You can trail them off the meadows, but you can’t startle them or run them.”
    Montgomery says there aren’t really treatment options available. “Generally you just need to handle the cattle only if necessary, and if you do, to do so slowly. Medical treatments haven’t been used with a great degree of success. Some may use anti-inflammatory treatments, but when there are large numbers affected it’s not really feasible.”
    Logan cautions that the disease can leave an area for bacteria to multiply, increasing the risk for pneumonia after an occurrence of cow asthma. “Typically it’s a good idea to get them on an antibiotic, after coordinating with a local veterinary practitioner,” he says.
    Paisley says the disease is pretty transient. “If you get them off the pastures the bacteria will stop producing toxin and they’ll come out of it,” he says.
    Montgomery also recommends feeding high quality hay as both a treatment and prevention. “The best way to treat this disease is to prevent it. Introduce the cattle to lush pastures gradually, if you can graze on adjacent pastures and move back and forth between them. A producer can also feed good quality hay prior to and during introduction to the pasture,” he notes.
    He also suggests waiting until after a very heavy freeze in the fall to use the lush pastures, or to pre-graze with sheep or cattle that are less than a year old. Another option is to cut and windrow the pastures. “There are quite a few management things you can do to prevent cow asthma,” he says.
    Paisley recommends treating cattle with ionophores such as Rumensin and Bovatec prior to introduction to new pastures. “If you think cow asthma is a possibility you can get the drugs into them before moving them onto the meadows,” he says.
    “It can be a serious disease once it occurs,” says Montgomery. “If producers have any questions or suspect a case they should talk to their vet.”
    Although the disease can be diagnosed at the State Vet Lab and it can be readily diagnosed in animals after they die, there is no specific test for the disease in a live animal. “There are a lot of other look-alike infectious diseases, like pneumonia, but the association with moving to lush pasture increases the suspicion for this disease,” explains Montgomery.
    Pulmonary emphysema isn’t seen in sheep for the same reasons it is seen in cattle, says Montgomery. “There are a whole lot of things that can trigger damage to the lungs, but cattle are the only true species where we see it associated with the change to lush pasture,” he says. “Sheep are very resistant, and that’s why you can run sheep ahead of cattle on these lush pastures.”
    This fall, with the cold weather Wyoming has already had, Montgomery says most pastures have probably already started to wilt with heavy freezes and therefore pose less of a danger.
    However, Logan says he’s seen occurrences of the respiratory disease as late as the day before Thanksgiving, and that producers should continue to be aware of the condition of their pastures when turning cattle out until they’ve had several hard freezes.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..