WERA1014: Intensive Pasture Management for Sustainable Livestock Production in the Western US

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

WERA1014: Intensive Pasture Management for Sustainable Livestock Production in the Western US

Duration: 10/01/2013 to 09/30/2018

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

During the past five years, livestock production enterprises have been affected by severe drought in the Corn Belt and Midwest that decimated pastures and resulted in the sell-off of cattle herds (Bjerga, 2012), and by grain prices that have increased beyond normal fluctuations and raised the breakeven selling price of beef to new levels, resulting in losses to cattle producers that also fall outside of normal fluctuations (Hofstrand, 2009). In the West, wildfires have removed land from public grazing during recovery (Campbell, 2012). These circumstances increase the relevance of management-intensive grazing on private irrigated pastures as a key component of sustainable livestock production systems in the western U.S., and this is the focus of WERA 1014.

Rotationally stocked pastures use grazing animals to harvest forages at a stage of plant growth that optimizes forage nutritive value and pasture plant regrowth. While this approach to grazing dates to the late 1950s (Voisin, 1959), rotational stocking on rainfed or irrigated pastures is not widely utilized in the U.S. (Gerrish, 2004). However, it is recognized as a low-input, sustainable approach to livestock production in the U.K., Europe, South Africa, and Australia, and is the basis for livestock production in New Zealand (Hodgson, 1990). Producers continue to view rotationally stocked, intensively managed grazing systems as the most environmentally and economically sustainable alternative to extensive (rangeland) grazing, continuous grazing, or confinement (drylot) systems for cattle production. Interest in the knowledge and skills of committee members is substantiated by strong rancher participation in the Lost River Grazing Academy, which is organized and taught each year by members of this committee.

In the U.S., much of the research on rotational stocking management has been carried out in the East, South, or Midwest (Barnhart et al., 1998; Bartlett et al., 1997; Blaser et al., 1986; Gerrish and Roberts, 1999). This work constitutes a useful but incomplete resource for producers in the western U.S., where irrigation must be addressed as both a management and a sustainability issue (Hill, 1994; Hill et al., 2000). The response of grazing animals also varies with climate, soils, and plant species, so the general literature (e.g., Beef Improvement Federation, 1996) is less relevant than regional resources (e.g., Adams et al., 2000; Barnhill et al., 1999; Brummer and Pearson, 2002; Guldan et al., 2000; Ingram and David, 1998; Shewmaker and Bohle, 2010).

The benefits of irrigated, intensively grazed pastures for beef production include the use of high-quality grass and legume species that increase the rate of cattle gain, improved nutrient cycling which can reduce or eliminate the need for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilization, increased carbon sequestration, and reduced runoff and wind erosion. Intensively grazed pasture feeding systems are more accessible to producers than extensive rangeland systems, providing greater flexibility for cattle marketing than rangeland systems. The emphasis of WERA 1014 is on economically and environmentally sustainable cattle production, which is promoted by faster gain on irrigated pastures, and in the potential for profitable pasture finishing that can reduce or eliminate the feeding of grain to cattle.

There is a current Multistate Research Project (W1012) that deals with forage-based livestock systems in the western U.S., but it is comprised primarily of animal and range scientists, and addresses the extensive management of rangeland production systems. W1012 specifically addresses methods to improve estimation of forage intake and diet quality on rangeland. The more intensive management systems that we work with are characterized by the seeding of improved forage species (both grasses and legumes) that are routinely irrigated in contrast with managed rangeland. It is common for ranches in the western U.S. to include private irrigated acreage used for hay and/or grazing as part of the overall production system, so aspects of our work are relevant to systems that depend primarily on rangeland and efforts will be made to coordinate with members of W1012.

The need for continuation of WERA 1014 is further justified by the termination of 2 closely related projects in the North Central Region: NC225-Improved Grazing Systems for Beef Cattle Production and NC1020-Beef Cattle Grazing Systems that Improve Production and Profitability while Minimizing Risk and Environmental Impacts. There is also a similar project in the southeast, SERA041-Beef Cattle Production Utilizing Forages in the Southeast to Integrate Research and Extension Programs across State Boundaries. Although there are similarities among these 3 projects and WERA 1014, the big environmental issue that sets WERA 1014 apart and justifies its continuation is the need for irrigation of pastures in the West. Irrigation is an additional input that must be considered and it often complicates management such as the timing of grazing in relationship to water application and designing pasture layouts to accommodate sprinkler irrigation systems.

The members of WERA 1014 continue to actively formulate and share research results and jointly conduct outreach programs to assist livestock producers to adopt environmentally and economically sustainable forage and grassland management resulting in reduced feeding costs and improved production, and greater environmental sustainability of integrated forage-livestock operations in the western U.S. WERA 1014 successfully promotes the collaboration of forage scientists in the western U.S., resulting in the joint authorship of publications (e.g., Pasture and Grazing Management in the Northwest, 2010; Challenges and Benefits of Interseeding Legumes Into Grass Dominated Stands, 2011) and successful grant applications (e.g., Improved organic milk production through the use of the condensed tannin-containing forage legume birdsfoot trefoil, funded for $1,019,411 in 2010).


  1. 1. Proposal development, coordination, and publication of innovative research in sustainable forage-livestock management for the western U.S.
  2. 2. Coordination and publication of Extension media to support the adoption of improved forage-livestock management practices, including workshops for producers, lenders and outreach personnel.

Procedures and Activities

The annual meetings of WERA 1014 are held in conjunction with the annual meetings of the Pacific Northwest Forage Workers. In the past few years, our joint meetings have been planned to coincide with National Association of County Agricultural Agents meetings, with joint field trips to facilitate the interaction of participants. These shared meetings have increased attendance at WERA 1014 and fostered the exchange of information among forage research and extension personnel, NRCS field and administrative personnel, and others interested in forage-livestock systems throughout the western U.S.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Through research, identify effective strategies that livestock producers in the western U.S. can use to improve management of irrigated forages and increase sustainability of their operations.
  • Develop innovative outreach programs and materials to support the adoption of sustainable forage-livestock practices for irrigated pastures.
  • Provide a forum for discussion of current problems and timely exchange of data related to sustainable forage-livestock production that will foster collaborative regional research and extension activities. These collaborative efforts will improve the ability of research and extension personnel with forage responsibilities to meet the most critical needs of livestock producers in the western U.S. given the current financial constraints everyone is working under.
  • Besides normal Extension activities, members of WERA 1014 have been involved in several very successful training opportunities for both producers and professionals. The first is the Lost Rivers Grazing Academy which is hosted by the University of Idaho, generally twice a year. Well over 200 people have participated in the Academy since its inception. Please see the following IMPACT statement that highlights the success of this activity: http://www.uidaho.edu/~/media/Files/Extension/Beef/Lost%20Rivers%20IMPACT.ashx. The second activity is an advanced Pasture Management Professional Development Workshop aimed at training professionals such as Extension Educators, Natural Resources Conservation Service field personnel, and agricultural consultants so they are better prepared to deal with landowners. The first workshop was held in Salmon, Idaho in August 2012 with about 30 participants. Numerous members of this committee served as instructors. Three to four more workshops are planned over the next 2 years in other states such as Washington, Colorado, Wyoming, and possibly Utah. This activity is funded by a grant from Western SARE.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Participants are currently conducting extension and other educational programs that distribute forage management information to producers, extension agents, consultants, and governmental agencies such as the NRCS. These programs are enhanced by the sharing of teaching methods, curricula, and research/demonstration data among participants from various western states.


The recommended Standard Governance for multistate research activities includes the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a NIFA Representative.

Literature Cited

Adams, D.C., R.T. Clark, G. Carriker, and R.E. Sandberg. 2000. March vs. June Calving Systems. National Cattlemens Beef Association, Cattlemens College. Denver, CO.

Barnhill, J., S. Olsen, R.F. Sessions, D. Miner, T. Julen-Day, N. Hansen, and C. Garn 1999. Small Pasture Management Guide for Utah. AG 508

Barnhart, S., D. Morrical, J. Russel, K. Moore, M. Miller, and C. Brummer. 1998. Pasture Management Guide for Livestock Producers, University Extension, Iowa State University, Pm-1713.

Bartlett, B., T. Cadwallader, J. Cockrell, D. Combs, D. Cosgrove, R. Klemme, L. Tranel, and D. Understander. 1997. Grazing Reference Materials Manual, Cooperative Extension Division of Wisconsin-Extension, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Beef Improvement Federation. 1996. Guidelines for Uniform Beef Improvement Programs, Northwester Research Extension Center, Colby Kansas. 159 pages.

Bjerga, A. 2012. Ranchers send cows to slaughter as drought sears pasture. Bloomberg News. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-10/ranchers-send-cows-to-slaughter-as-u-s-drought-sears-pasture.html

Blaser, R.E., R.C. Hammes, Jr., J.P. Fontenot, H.T. Bryant, C.E. Polan, D.D. Wolf, F.S. McClaugherty, R.G. Cline, and J.S. Moore. 1986. Forage-Animal Management Systems, Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bulletin 86-7.

Brummer, J.E. and C.H. Pearson. 2002. Proceedings of the Intermountain Forage Symposium. Tech. Bull. LTB 02-1, Colorado State University.

Butterfield, J., S. Bingham, and A. Savory. 2006. Holistic Management Handbook: Healthy Land, Healthy Profits. Island Press, 272 pages.

Campbell, K. 2012. Wildfires force ranchers into tough choices. AgAlert. http://www.agalert.com/story/?id=4768

Gerrish, J. 2004. Management-intensive Grazing. The Grassroots of Grass Farming. Green Park Press, 314 pages.

Gerrish, J. and C. Roberts. 1999. Missouri Grazing Manual, Cooperative Extension, University of Missouri, Columbia.

Guldan, S.J., L.M. Lauriault, and C.A. Martin. 2000. Evaluation of irrigated tall fescue-legume communities in the steppe of the southern Rocky Mountains. Agronomy Journal 92: 1189-1195.

Hill, R.W. 1994. Consumptive [water] use of irrigated crops in Utah. Utah Agric. Exp. Stn. Res. Rep. 145.

Hill, R.W., M. Winger, and D. Worwood. 2000. Sprinklers, crop water use, and irrigation time. Carbon and Emery counties. Utah State University Extension electronic publication ENGR/BIE/WM/07.

Hodgson, J. 1990. Grazing Management: Science into Practice. Longman Scientific & Technical (John Wiley & Sons, Inc, New York). 203 pages.

Hofstrand, D. 2009 Impact of rising feed prices on cattle finishing profitability. Ag Marketing Resource Center, Iowa State University Extension. http://www.agmrc.org/renewable_energy/ethanol/impact-of-rising-feed-prices-on-cattle-finishing-profitability

Ingram, R. and P. David. 1998. California Grazing Academy, University of California, Cooperative Extension.

Shewmaker, G.E. and M.G. Bohle. 2010. Pasture and Grazing Management in the Pacific Northwest, Pacific Northwest Extension Publication PNW-614, Univ. Idaho Ext., Moscow, ID.

Voisin, A. 1959. Grass Productivity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 346 pages.


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Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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