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New Grazing System Improves Forage Availability and Water Use Efficiency

The Issue

Most ranchers in the intermountain area of Northern California rely on irrigated pastures or public land grazing allotments for grazing during the growing season. Because of harsh winter conditions, there is insufficient good-quality forage on the range or in irrigated pastures from October to mid April or later. That makes winter feeding one of the most costly inputs in cow/calf cattle operations as ranchers feed hay, low-quality crop aftermath, or supplements. There are other incentives for cattle producers to find alternative grazing systems. Growers are facing continued and more aggressive reductions in public lands grazing. This will intensify the need for improved efficiency and increased forage supplies, especially in the fall. Water use for forage production is also falling under increased scrutiny. A forage system that decreases winter hay feeding, reduces the dependency on public lands grazing, and improves water use efficiency would be highly desirable.

What Has ANR Done?

Cooperative Extension advisors conducted a series of field trials in Siskiyou County to develop a grazing system using winter annual grasses. Trials were conducted with growers and at the UC Intermountain Research and Extension Center. Yield and forage quality were evaluated for several different grass species under actual grazing conditions. Grazing management practices were also studied by cutting to simulate grazing. The results indicated that annual grasses such as triticale could lengthen the forage production season by allowing late fall grazing, early spring grazing and still allow for a hay crop to be produced from the regrowth after grazing. Much of the growing season for winter annual grasses occurs at times of the year when temperatures are cool and rain frequent. Since the amount of water needed per unit of forage is less with this annual grass system than it is with perennial grasses, this system has improved water use efficiency.

The Payoff

New crop has great fit for grazing cattle and improved water use efficiency

The new forage management system, primarily with a new crop called triticale, is a terrific improvement. Triticale doesn’t replace an old crop; it complements the traditional cattle grazing systems. Triticale provides grazable forage of high quality when previously that wasn’t available. Growth occurs during the year when natural rainfall is more plentiful making better use of water. It is a new concept for growers, but it’s advantages are so great many are readily adopting the new practices.

Clientele Testimonial

"Triticale fits great for our ranch. We get fall and spring feed. It cuts back on our hay feeding and it works as a rotation crop with our alfalfa production."
Mike Bryan, cattle ranch and alfalfa producer.


Dan Drake, Farm Advisor, djdrake@ucdavis.edu; and Steve Orloff, County Director, sborloff@ucdavis.edu; 1655 So. Main, Yreka, CA 96097, 530/842-2711.