Pasture Biochemical Diversity

Pasture Biochemical Diversity: Influence on Foraging Behavior and Animal Production

Participant: Dr. Aziza-Gasmin Boubaker - Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Scientist  - Institut National Agronomique de Tunisie, Tunisia
Participant: Dr. Jinyu Xiao - Chinese Government Scholar and Visiting Scientisit.- College of Pastoral Agriculture Science and Technology, Lanzhou University, China

Today pasture managers face several challenges. Pastures capture solar energy to produce plant biomass to feed ruminants, but today graziers need to manage for increased sustainability with less dependence fuel and fertilizer. They may also need to consider enhancing C sequestration, more efficient capture of N from forages, and the health and welfare of their animals. Our research will provide farmers with knowledge to design pasture systems that balance different goals and improve overall sustainability.

We propose to study how multiple complementary plant species influence the environment and the production and behavior of ruminants. This proposed grazing experiment will be conducted for 2 years (2013 to 2014). We will determine if 3-way combinations of plants lead to complementary relationships that produce more benefits (increased intake, changes in feeding patterns and grazing time, productivity and greater N retention and efficiency of nutrient use) than combinations of lower diversity (pasture monocultures).

To accomplish this objective, we will establish 3 blocks (spatial repetitions), each 6 acres in size on irrigated land. Each block will be divided into four 1.5 acre plots (3-way combinations of alfalfa (ALF), sainfoin (SA) and tall fescue (TF), and monocultures of each plant species). Within a 3-way choice plot, we will plant strips of TF, ALF, and SA. Animals will have free access to these strips. Each plot will be grazed from May through August by 3 fall-born beef calves (n = 4 × 3 = 12 animals/block; 12 x 3 blocks = 36 animals total), approximately 700 lbs weight in May. They will strip-graze in pastures with temporary electric fences that will be moved daily to allow access to fresh forage. Calves within a treatment will have ad libitum access to the grasses and legumes as we will monitor biomass offered and refused after grazing, locomotion, forage preferences and feeding patterns.