Nevada study says livestock eat dry cheatgrass
ELKO, Nev. (AP) – Federal land managers in Nevada are embracing new research that shows livestock will eat cheatgrass when the invasive plant dries out in the fall, not just when it’s green during the spring grazing season.
The study by researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno debunks the belief by some ranchers that dry cheatgrass has little or no nutritional value for cattle grazing on federal lands, officials for the U.S. Bureau of Management said.
It also suggests fall grazing on the invasive weeds could help make a dent on cheatgrass-covered hillsides that fuel late summer wildfires across northern Nevada, the Great Basin and other parts of the interior West.
“The notion that animals don’t eat dry cheatgrass is incorrect,” said Barry Perryman, an associate professor of rangeland ecology and member of the BLM’s Northeastern Resource Advisory Council.
“Our experiment showed that once the seeds fell off the plants, the cheatgrass became palatable,” he said.
Ben Bruce, a Nevada associate professor of rangeland animal nutrition who co-authored the study, said it provides ranchers with “another source of forage that previously was not considered nutritious.”
“The protein content and energy of cheatgrass in the fall is at least as good, if not better, than perennial grasses,” Perryman said. “And the results were consistent through the four-year study.”
The two conducted the experiment from 2006 to 2008 at the Gund Ranch near Eureka about 200 miles east of Reno.
Schirete Zick, spokeswoman for the BLM’s Battle Mountain district, said UNR financed the study itself but agency officials “are excited about the findings and are helping publicize the results.”
“The results clearly demonstrate that cheatgrass can be significantly reduced with the aid of fall grazing,” she told the Elko Daily Free Press.
Cheatgrass is believed to arrived in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in contaminated ship ballast and railroad packing materials from Europe and Asia.
It spread quickly, displacing native plants, and is now the dominant species on more than 100 million acres in the West, according to the BLM.
Jerry Smith, district manager for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Battle Mountain District, said cheatgrass was considered a contributing factor in 85 percent of the wildfires that burned nearly 4 million acres of Nevada rangeland over the past four years.
In addition to the fire hazard, cheatgrass grows earlier in the season than most perennial grasses, stealing water and nutrients they need to provide forage for wildlife, he said.
And to top it off, Smith said, cheatgrass is of the first plants to invade newly burned areas. He said BLM estimates cheatgrass invades 4,000 acres a day in the West.
“A single stalk of cheatgrass can produce 1,000 seeds, and a single acre may contain hundreds of thousands of these plants,” Smith said.
Meghan Brown, executive director of the Nevada Catttlemen’s Association, and Dan Gralian, general manager of Newmont Mining Corp.’s Elko Land and Livestock, said they welcome the news.
“It would be bonus feed,” Gralian said. “It’s going to help reduce cheatgrass and fires.”