Pastures seeded to certain cool-season perennial grasses can reduce grazing pressure on native rangelands and keep cattle adequately nourished.

That’s according to Marshall Haferkamp, a USDA-ARS rangeland scientist at the Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory in Miles City, MT. Seeded pastures are especially welcome during months when lush, green forage is hard to come by. Ranchers can also use these pastures to shift grazing pressure away from native rangelands in spring and autumn and allow possibly fragile or recuperating sites to recover.

In the semiarid regions of eastern Montana, where the Miles City laboratory is located, ranching on native rangelands means relying on Mother Nature, for the most part. Haferkamp says that April, May and June rainfall usually determine how much forage is available in a given year for grazing cattle.

This unpredictability is one of the reasons he wanted to graze selected cool-season grasses in spring and autumn. The grasses not only needed to take well to the Northern Great Plains environment, they needed to be digestible and nutritious for cattle.

Cattle gained more weight while grazing on seeded pastures in spring and autumn than on native rangelands, says Haferkamp, who worked with ARS animal nutritionist Elaine Grings and ARS geneticist Michael MacNeil.

The most promising varieties included spring variety Hycrest crested wheatgrass and autumn variety Prairieland Altai wild rye.

To learn more about Haferkamp's forage studies, see the February issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at: www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/feb06/acres0206.htm.