Extending grazing into the winter, as opposed to feeding of harvested forages, can increase the sustainability of ranching in the western US. This study was conducted to determine the economic value of grazing stockpiled forage kochia (Kochia prostrata [L.] Scrad.) and crested wheatgrass (Agropyron desertorum [Fisch. Ex Link] Schultes) during the fall and winter. Changes in cow body weight, body condition score, and ultrasound backfat were compared for late-gestation cows grazing forage kochia–crested wheatgrass pastures vs. those fed alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) hay in drylot. The study was conducted from early November to late January for 2 consecutive years near Promontory, Utah. Forage availability and nutritional quality were monitored throughout the experiment. Cows grazing stockpiled forages did not receive any protein or energy supplements. Forage kochia comprised approximately 70% of available forage, with November crude protein content of 116 and 76 g·kg−1 in years 1 and 2, respectively. Nutritional quality declined throughout the season, presumably mostly because of removal of higher-quality forage by preferential grazing as opposed to weathering. Averaged over years, cows grazing forage kochia–grass gained body weight (19 kg), increased in body condition (0.3 points), and maintained backfat thickness, finishing well within the range considered optimum for onset of calving and return to estrus. Pasture- vs. drylot-fed cows did not differ with regard to changes in body weight or body condition score. Both treatments increased backfat in year 1, when initial backfat was less than 0.5 cm, but both treatments resulted in loss of backfat in year 2, when initial backfat was greater than 1.0 cm. Grazing was more economical, costing $0.24·cow−1·d−1 less than feeding alfalfa hay in drylot. Forage kochia can be used on western rangelands to extend grazing into the fall and winter, thereby improving the profitability of beef production.
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Vol. 59 • No. 3