Ask the Professor - Fall Grazing

How does having cattle graze cheatgrass in the fall reduce fuel loads?

Having cattle graze cheatgrass in the fall and winter reduces fuel loads in two ways. First, if there are 1,000 pounds of cheatgrass, and the cattle eat 500 pounds of it, then that’s 500 pounds less of carryover fuel that goes into the next fire season. Second, as the old, dead thatch is reduced, cheatgrass’ ability to compete with perennial, less flammable grasses also decreases. After about three years of cattle grazing in the fall, perennial grasses become visibly the more dominant vegetation.

before and after fall grazing
Effect of fall grazing (right side of fence) over a three year period at the TS Ranch, Dunphy, NV.

What kind of nutritional value does a diet of cheatgrass provide cattle?

Cheatgrass is fairly nutritious for the cattle. It has a high total digestible nutrient content, which means it can provide all of the cattle’s energy needs. However, it generally cannot provide quite enough protein. Therefore, ranchers using this management method need to provide protein supplements to their cattle. Otherwise, cheatgrass is comparable to commonly grazed perennial grasses.

Does managing one’s cattle in this fashion increase input cost or man hours?

Despite having to pay for protein supplements, the ranchers who chose to have their cattle graze cheatgrass in the fall and winter instead of buying other feedstocks claim to have saved approximately $50 per head per month. In addition, letting the cattle graze requires fewer man hours than shoveling purchased feedstock or hay from the back of a truck, trailer, sleigh or any other vehicle.

Barry Perryman is a professor in the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Veterinary Sciences. In 1996, he earned his Ph.D. in Rangeland Ecology from the University of Wyoming - Laramie. His research focuses primarily on topics pertaining to rangeland management and stewardship.

Barry Perryman
Professor Barry Perryman, Rangeland Specialist