Forage kochia can provide more nutritious winter forage than traditional rangeland vegetation in the western U.S., USDA-ARS research in Logan, UT, suggests.

In a series of studies, plant geneticist Blair Waldron found that the shrubby Asian native plant can be established on damaged rangelands, and that it can compete with cheatgrass and even protect against wildfires.

Waldron and his cooperators compared the fall-and-winter forage yields, carrying capacities and nutritive values of kochia-dominated and grass-dominated rangelands. They also investigated the  performance of cattle grazing the two treatments. They stocked each site with predominately Black Angus cattle and ran field trials for two seasons.

They found that the forage yield on rangelands seeded with kochia was 2,309 lbs per acre, which was six times greater than the forage yield on traditional grazing lands. The difference meant that the rangelands with kochia could support 1.38 animals per acre vs. 0.24 animal per acre for the traditional rangelands.

In addition, the experimental forage had a crude protein content of 11.7%, well above the recommended minimum, while the grasses had a crude protein content of only 3.1%, which was below the recommended level.

Waldron works at the USDA-ARS Forage and Range Research Laboratory in Logan.