December 5, 2018
Targeted Livestock Grazing to Suppress Cheatgrass
Cheatgrass, or downy brome (Bromus tectorum), is an annual, invasive grass reproducing solely by seed. Cheatgrass is a prolific seed producer forming dense monocultures and decreasing biological diversity. Cheatgrass also promotes soil erosion and more frequent wildfires. Increasing fire frequency may remove and exclude all perennial shrubs, forbs, and grasses from a landscape. A targeted grazing prescription is listed below:
Grazing Objective: To suppress cheatgrass plant biomass and seed production for two to three consecutive years.
Grazing Intensity: If targeted grazing is applied in spring, cheatgrass plants should be grazed until seedheads have been removed. Be sure to monitor the residual height of desirable plant species. If targeted grazing occurs during the growing season, most desirable plants need three inches or greater of residual stubble to remain healthy.
Timing and Frequency of Grazing: Targeted grazing in spring should begin when winter rosettes of cheatgrass are accessible and palatable. If livestock are allowed access to a site too early in the spring, they may selectively graze desirable grasses instead of
cheatgrass. Grazing desirable grasses to early initiates spring growth before the cheatgrass. Cheatgrass seeds are viable before they reach seed maturity. Therefore, it is important that targeted grazing in spring occur before cheatgrass plants turn purple in color. The seed must be prevented from reaching the dough stage. At least two defoliations are needed in spring each year because cheatgrass can regrow and produce new seedheads about three to four weeks after the first defoliation. Graze an area for one to three weeks and then re-graze the area one to three weeks later. New seedheads may form after the second grazing period but usually do not produce viable seeds.
Duration of Grazing: Dramatic decreases in cheatgrass abundance can occur when targeted grazing is applied for two or more consecutive years.
Livestock Considerations: Sheep, goats, cattle, and horses will readily consume cheatgrass-dominated diets, provided cheatgrass is plentiful and palatable. All four of these livestock species can be used to suppress cheatgrass.
Other Considerations: If targeted grazing occurs after cheatgrass plants have turned purple in color, viable cheatgrass seeds will remain in livestock feces. Consequently, livestock should be held in a corral for five to seven days before moving livestock to uninfested areas. Most cheatgrass seeds pass within five days.
Information for this article was taken from a professional paper written by Jeff Mosley (MSU Extension Range Management Specialist). The complete document is available at the Chouteau County Extension office. The office is located in the green building next to the Chouteau County Courthouse.
Montana State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Montana Counties Cooperating. MSU Extension is an equal opportunity/affirmative action provider of educational outreach.