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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink What information can you give me on accounting software for my value-added livestock business?


Thanks for asking ATTRA about accounting software for a value-added animal business. Most of the small producers I know use general accounting software like Quicken or QuickBooks, however, there is software designed specifically for livestock business needs such as keeping herd records for cow/calf operations, animal ID and traceability, order fulfillment for mail and Internet marketers, and so on. If you like the QuickBooks software, you may be interested in the QuickBooks Farm Accounting Cookbook, which tells you how to use Quick Books for farm accounting applications. User feedback on this "cookbook" is very good.

One software package that is widely used for farm accounting is FINPACK, which is recommended by many producers. FINPACK is a little more complex to learn to use, but offers many more farm-specific options than general accounting software, as well as a huge database of financial data that you can use .

Some software products you might want to investigate are listed below.

Some Software for Livestock Operations
General including livestock:

List of software for dairy operations:

List of software for beef operations: (scroll down to "Software" at the bottom of the page)

Comprehensive list of software for all types of agricultural operations, including very enterprise-specific software:

Comprehensive list of software for food processing:



Permalink What are some options for organic brush control?



Brush control can be done in a variety of ways without using chemicals that are prohibited for use under USDA’s organic standards. You will need to weigh the information below with your own experience to date with the practicality and feasibility of each proposed method. You can design a combination of management strategies to provide the best control for a variety of non-native, invasive plants.

If you review the articles referenced below, please disregard any references to herbicide materials (that would be prohibited in organic systems). Instead, look at the information about plant life cycle and growth habits, and the non-chemical approaches to managing brush that may be both helpful and allowed within an organic system.

Management Ideas and Tools:

General tips:
• A first step toward effective management strategies is to properly identify the species you wish to control, and to understand the life cycle and growth habits of the plant(s)
• The best treatment is often a combination of complementary treatments.
• Strategic timing can make any given approach much more effective. On the other hand, bad timing could make things worse by stimulating growth.
• Physical controls will be most effective when done when roots are most exhausted, such as in the spring after budbreak, or during a drought.

Hand Removal/Physical Uprooting: Pull out the small plants including the roots. Hand pulling works best when the soil is moist and the plants are less than 3/8 inch diameter (2). As you pull plants, avoid excessive soil disturbance to avoid bringing up new seeds that may be buried in the soil (1). Many types of seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years, such that follow-up control of seedlings that emerge later is essential (2).

Tools such as a "Weed Wrench" or "Root Talon" can help pull stems up to 2.5 inches in diameter.

The "Weed Wrench" comes in four different sizes, with jaws that open from 1” to 2.5”, with the larger ones clearly being bigger, heavier tools. Their website provides some guidelines for use and selection: The Weed Wrench Co.
Toll Free: 877-484-4177 Phone: 541-471-2012 Fax: 541-471-4120

The Weed Talon appears to have been designed for removal of buckthorn, but seems that it would work on a variety of species. Lampe Design, LLC (651) 699-4963. A review of this tool is available at

Cut off larger plants that cannot be pulled up by their roots; then cover the cut surface to prevent resprouting. Materials you use to cover the stumps might be as simple as something to prevent light from reaching the cut, such as a can or black plastic. The best time to cut and chemically treat the stumps is in late summer and throughout the fall (2). Keep track of the location of the cut trees so you can check whether they are re-growing, and if they are, address any re-growth promptly.

Grazing animals: Woody perennials have a variety of physical and chemical defenses (i.e. thorns and unpalatable elements) to avoid being browsed. Goats are good at eating woody perennials. Their digestive systems are well adapted to getting nutrients form woody material, and their larger livers allow then to detoxify substances such as tannins and terpenes. However, multiple species can also be useful. Timing of grazing is important. Grazing goats, sheep, cattle or other animals in the summer removes foliage and can help exhaust root reserves when they otherwise would be building up for the dormant season. However, fall and winter foliage may be more palatable and less toxic. High stocking density for a short period of time (not overgrazing) can reduce selectivity in grazing to increase shrub consumption. Feeding high protein supplements can also help increase consumption of woody material.

These and many other ideas can be found in the resource “Targeted Grazing: A natural approach to vegetation management". This reference is a wealth of information by many authors with a great deal of experience in the field. Chapter 9 is entitled Targeted Grazing to Control Weedy Brush and Trees, written by Erika Campbell and Charles A. Taylor, Jr. It covers tips on breed selection, selective breeding, timing, stocking rate, as well as considerations for animal production. Chapter 18 of this book is entitled “Additional Resources for Targeted Grazing” is also noteworthy. Two of its writers are ATTRA specialists Linda Coffey and Margo Hale.

Mechanical scraping:
The bark of brush and saplings can be scraped off using a “bush scraper" pulled behind a tractor or draft animals. This may scrape all the bark off one side of the saplings, interfering with the transport of water and carbohydrates. The author commented, "The speed of death is important because in cases where the plant suffers a severe shock, such as fire or breaking, it sends a message to send out new growth from the root." "In a slow death the plant never really gets the message it's dying." The scraped area also becomes a prime entrance location for disease and insects which inadvertently help control the trees. In this case study, scraping was followed by a spring burn to clean up the dead material.

Flaming: Flaming means heating a plant’s tissues with a propane torch. This technique can provide effective non-chemical alternatives to kill new sprouts. It is like cooking tender green shoots, and should not be confused with actual burning where the plant catches fire. Like other strategies, the timing of treatment is important. Flaming should be done when the plants are small, tender and moist. With relatively little fuel, you can knock back the plants when they are weakest, and prevent strong regrowth.

Prescribed Burning:
Fire is one method proposed for controlling woody perennial seedlings in fire-adapted areas. Certified organic operations should check any plans for burning with their certifiers for clarity of permissibility. USDA’s National Organic Standards section 205.203 (e) states that, “The producer must not use burning as a means of disposal for crop residues produced on the operation: Except, that, burning may be used to suppress the spread of disease or to stimulate seed germination.” As you describe your weed management strategies, you will want to include a description of any proposed burning. Under most circumstances, invasive species should not be considered crop residue, but it is good to have agreement about your plans.

Timing for burning is recommended in the Midwest from late March to early May, or as soon as leaf litter is dry. Resprouting after burning at this time will be less vigorous due to the low carbohydrate levels in the plants in early spring. Repeated burning of established stands may be required every year or two-to-three years for 5-6 years or more (1, 2). Prescribed fire may be ineffective and therefore unsuitable in low litter areas. In dense stands, seedlings and saplings may be cut and allowed to dry on site to create fuel for future fires. Even with plants that are vulnerable to fire, one needs to be vigilant about managing any resprouting that occurs. (1).

Replanting with Desirable Plant Species:
After brush control, it may be helpful to replant your site with desirable trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants. Clearly, the plants you choose will depend on your intended land use, whether it is to be a natural or agricultural area.


(1) PCA Alien Plant Working Group

(2) Buckthorn: What you can do! - Invasive species: Minnesota DNR

(3) Controlling Aspen Regrowth with Grazing.
Daniels, Calvin, Stockman Grassfarmer. February 1995, p. 30.

(4) Targeted Grazing: A natural approach to vegetation management.
A handbook on grazing as a new ecological service.
2006 ASI, A. Peischel and D.D. Henry, Jr.

(5) The Nature Conservancy Weeds



Permalink How can I control rodents organically?



For rat control, the first task is to identify the species of rat, which will provide clues about where it lives, its habits, and its management. One rat pest is the Norway rat, which is generally a burrowing animal
adapted to a wide variety of climates. Another is the roof rat, which generally favors tropical or subtropical conditions, will live above ground, and often inhabits upper stories or attic of a house. The roof rat prefers fruits and nuts, whereas the Norwegian rat has more general food preferences.

Generally burrowing animals, Norway rats build elaborate underground systems. The main entrance, 2 to 3 inches in diameter, leads to the central den. Norway rats also incorporate one or more well–hidden "bolt holes” or emergency escape routes.

Females can bear up to 12 litters annually but usually average five litters each year. Pups are born hairless, with their eyes and ears closed. They grow quickly, opening their eyes at 2 weeks and eating solid food at 2 ½ to 3 weeks, and are independent at 3 to 4 weeks. Norway rats are sexually mature at three months. Some females breed even earlier if there is abundant food available to support additional animals.

Unlike man, Norway rats have six senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight, and kinesthetic (muscle sense).

Norway and roof rats are nocturnal creatures and cannot always rely on sight to orient them. Very sensitive whiskers, or vibrissae, on their noses and longer "guard hairs" on their bodies act as tactile sensors, allowing rats to maneuver around objects in total darkness in their environment. Rats also gain a sense of security when their whiskers and guard hairs are in contact with objects in their territory.

Closely related to this sense of touch is kinesthetic sense. Simply stated, it is the rats' ability to memorize their environment by body or muscle movement alone. If danger arises, Norway and roof rats react automatically to escape danger. Norway and roof rats become so ingrained by body movements that when objects are removed from their territory, rats continue to move around them as if the objects were still there.

Norway rats have a very keen sense of taste and can detect specific food ingredients at levels of 0.5 parts per million. Although they eat almost any kind of food, Norway rats usually choose fresh, wholesome items over stale contaminated foods. Norway rats will eat good-tasting items, even if the smell is offensive.

Both Norway and roof rats eat 10 to 40 percent of their body weight every day or 20 to 40 pounds of food each year. If necessary, they will eat anything to survive except food contaminated with chemicals or pesticides. Not only do rats use their sensitive sense of smell to locate food sources, they also use smell to locate and recognize rats of the opposite sex. Extending into the ultrasonic range, their excellent hearing enables Norway rats to detect and escape danger.

Below you will find references to several articles and chapters on dealing with rat and/or mice control options, and on using hawks, barn owls, or other owls to control rodents.

According to a reference on rat control, the following bait was noted as being very effective. The individual stated that the recipe was from an old “Dairy Goat Guide.” The recipe is 1 part builder’s cement, 2 parts whole-wheat flour and 1 part sugar. Place in an area easily accessible by rats. A dish of water can be placed next to it. The cement apparently hardens inside the rats, killing them. The bait must be kept dry. Rat traps, another management option, are available in most hardware stores and can be baited with peanut butter to capture a specimen for identification, or for general control.

Remember that if you are a certified organic producer, any method of rat or mouse control that you plan on using needs to be approved by your certifying agency and written into your organic system plan.

There are two materials that are allowed for rodent control in organic production. However, there are many acceptable methods of control. I have included a few key sections of the National Organic Program Standards about pest control and also by providing some general considerations for rodent control.

Please read the Organic Standards carefully. Your certifier should provide you with a copy of the standards, and they can also be found online at
You should also check with your certifier with any remaining questions. Of course, any material you plan to use must be included in your Organic System Plan and approved by your certifier. The standards provide several strategies to help you develop a systems-based approach to managing pests—including rodents—on your farm. Rodent management will be a continuing effort, and it is probably unrealistic to expect to fully eliminate the problem.

Predators: Some people have a great deal of success putting up nest boxes to attract owls to eat rodents. Depending on the wildlife that lives in your region, many types of predators may be able to help you, including snakes, owls, hawks, great blue herons, weasels, bobcats, coyotes, and domestic dogs and cats. More detail on design and placement is provided below.

Trapping, Habitat Reduction, and Physical Barriers: Many if not most organic farmers rely on trapping for some degree of control. Trapping can be very effective when used with persistence, skill, and appropriate type of traps (there are many kinds on the market). To be most effective, trapping must be done daily, especially at critical times in the cropping season and key seasons in the live cycle of the rodent. Many types of rodent problems may be minimized by making the farm and areas around farm buildings less hospitable to them, by removing shelter and potential food sources. Physical barriers to invasion or access to food, such as fences, wire baskets, or even trenches and irrigation.

Rodenticide Materials: National Organic Program standards for pest control (see below) list many methods of control, but only two allowed materials. Allowed pesticide materials should be used only when you have tried other methods and they are not sufficient. Any material, whether natural or synthetic, must be included in your Organic System Plan to be approved by your organic certifier. Natural materials, in general are allowed, but a few, such as arsenic and strychnine, are prohibited. Synthetic materials are generally prohibited, with a few specific exceptions that are allowed and included on the National List of allowed synthetics. For rodent control those are sulfur dioxide (smoke bombs), and Vitamin D3.

Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) is listed as an allowed synthetic material for rodent pest control. Cholecalciferol-containing rodenticides produce hypercalcemia (6), making it an effective poison. Rodents generally die within two days following ingestion and do not appear to exhibit bait shyness. However, care should be used when placing this bait, particularly where dogs and young male cats are present, both of which are somewhat indiscriminate in their eating habits.

In the Generic Materials List published June 2004 by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), OMRI notes:
Vitamin D-3 cannot be the sole means of rodent control. Alternative methods for rodent control must be documented in the Organic System Plan. Growers must take precautions to prevent killing non-target animals.
There are several trade names of commercial rodenticides containing vitamin D-3 or cholecalciferol, such as: Quintox, True Grit Rampage, and Ortho Rat-B-Gone (6). Some of these rodenticides should be available from a local garden supply store or garden section of a hardware store. You will need to obtain a label from the manufacturer with a complete disclosure of the inert ingredients in the product, and ask your certifier whether these products are acceptable. Many products, although they contain an active ingredient that is allowed, also include “inert” ingredients that may or may not be acceptable for use in organic agriculture (to be allowed they must be on EPA list 4). Other sources of cholecalciferol include multivitamins containing Vitamin D, such as Viactiv (6), feed grade or dietary sources of vitamin D, and plants with calcinogenic properties (1). Cestrum diurnum (Day Jessamine) and Solanum malacoxylon plants are a source of cholecalciferol (6).

National Organic Program standards:
§ 205.206 Crop pest, weed, and disease management practice standard.
(a) The producer must use management practices to prevent crop pests, weeds, and diseases including but not limited to:
(1) Crop rotation and soil and crop nutrient management practices, as provided for in §§ 205.203 and 205.205;
(2) Sanitation measures to remove disease vectors, weed seeds, and habitat for pest organisms; and
(3) Cultural practices that enhance crop health, including selection of plant species and varieties with regard to suitability to site-specific conditions and resistance to prevalent pests, weeds, and diseases.
(b) Pest problems may be controlled through mechanical or physical methods including but not limited to:
(1) Augmentation or introduction of predators or parasites of the pest species;
(2) Development of habitat for natural enemies of pests;
(3) Nonsynthetic controls such as lures, traps, and repellents…
(e) When the practices provided for in paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section are insufficient to prevent or control crop pests, weeds, and diseases, a biological or botanical substance or a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be applied to prevent, suppress, or control pests, weeds, or diseases: Provided, That, the conditions for using the substance are documented in the organic system plan.

§ 205.601 Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production.
In accordance with restrictions specified in this section, the following synthetic substances may be used in organic crop production: Provided, that, use of such substances do not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water. Substances allowed by this section, except disinfectants and sanitizers in paragraph (a) and those substances in paragraphs (c), (j), (k), and (l) of this section, may only be used when the provisions set forth in Sec. 205.206(a) through (d) prove insufficient to prevent or control the target pest….(g) As rodenticides.
(1) Sulfur dioxide—underground rodent control only (smoke bombs).
(2) Vitamin D3.

§205.602 Nonsynthetic substances prohibited for use in organic crop production.
The following nonsynthetic substances may not be used in organic crop production…to treat a physiological disorder associated with calcium uptake.
(a) Arsenic…
(h) Strychnine.
(i) Tobacco dust (nicotine sulfate).

Control Options, Predators
Since chemical controls such as anti-coagulants are not preferred options, what’s needed is an increased population of predators including snakes such as gopher snakes, corn snakes, rat snakes, owls, hawks, great blue herons, weasels, bobcats, coyotes, and domestic dogs and cats.

Two of the species of rat snakes on the mainland US feed on rodents, such as mice, rats, and squirrels, are the corn snake, Elaphe guttata, and the rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta. However, please note that both species also feed on small birds, so that chicks and eggs might be at risk as well as rodents. Domestic cats are another option and will provide long-term control, although they will also prey on the songbirds on your farm.
More than 95 percent of the diet of barn owls usually consists of small mammals (mostly rodents). However, in some studies substantial bird remains have been found. According to Colvin (3) each adult barn owl may consume about one or two rodents per night; a nesting pair and their young can eat more than 1,000 rodents per year. Dietary studies from California and other states show that a barn owl consumes on average 50 to 60 grams of prey per day (0.11-0.13 pounds per day, 40-48 pounds per year). The actual species consumed depends on the species abundance and availability in the area. Barn owls will readily use man-made nest boxes. It’s clear that there is more than one way to build a barn owl box.
One model for a barn owl nesting box that is made from PVC is online at

Many states also have published instructions for control of animal damage; you can contact your county Extension agent for additional information.

1) National Organic Program, USDA, Organic Standards, Regulatory Text

2) An Overview of Cholecalciferol Toxicosis, The American Board of Veterinary Toxicology (ABVT)

3) Colvin, B.A. Barn owls: Their secrets and habits. Illinois Audubon, No. 216 Spring. 1986.

4) ibid.

5) Birds and Nature. Bird House Tables.

6) Rodenticides. Source: Journal of Veterinary Medicine, archives, vol. 27, May, 1998. posted on IPM of Alaska, Solving Pest Problems Sensibly. Rocco Moschetti, P.O. Box 875006, Wasilla, Alaska 99687-5006 (907)745-SAFE (745-7233) email:


Anon. No date. Frequently asked questions about using barn owls for rodent control. 4 p.

Anon. No date. Owl box plans and mounting instructions. 5 p.

Anon. 2002. Perches encourage hawks to control rodents in crops. Farm Show. Vol. 26, No. 4. 1 p.

Anon. No date. Raptor perches. 3 p.

Anon. 1996. Rat Management. Entomology Fact Sheet, NHE-PH-2. Cooperative Extension Service. University of Illinois. 3 p.

Anon. No date. The barn owl. 5 p.

Baker, Rex O., Gerald R. Bodman, and Robert M. Timm. 1994. Rodent-Proof Construction and Exclusion Methods. p. B-137–B-150. In: Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage—1994. Cooperative Extension, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Daly, M. Allan. 2001. The barn owl: Friend of agriculture and communities. Maryland Cooperative Extension. Fact Sheet 795. 8 p.

Edwards, Steve. 2003. Oh rats! Controlling rodents on the farm. Acres, U.S.A. November.
p. 20-21.

Hoffman, Tom. 1997. Using barn owls for rodent control. 11 p.

Ingels, Chuck. 1998. Results of barn owl prey study in the Lodi grape district. 3 p.

Krautwurst, Terry. 2003. Barn owl magic. Mother Earth News. December/January. p. 20-23.

Marsh, Rex E. 1994. Roof Rats. p. B-124–B-132. In: Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage—1994. Cooperative Extension, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. 2002. Rodent control & animal traps. Catalog. p. 109.

Price, Martin L. 1987. Success reported. Echo Development Notes. November. p. 1.

Simon, Laurie, and William Quarles. 2004. Integrated Rat Management. Common Sense Pest Control. Winter. p. 5–16.

Timm, Robert M. 1994. Norway rats and House mice. In: Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage — 1994. Cooperative Extension, University of Nebraska, Lincoln. p. B-105 — B-120, and B-32 — B-46.

Trunko, Michael E. 1997. Good riddance to rats and mice! Small Farm Today. April–May. p. 38–40.



Permalink What can you tell me about dryland pasture management?



I am pleased to provide you with information on forage varieties and dryland pasture management.

Dryland pastures can be very productive, but require good management to remain productive. Forage variety selection, planting technique and timing, and grazing management are crucial for sustained productivity. Plant varieties can be selected that are drought tolerant, winterhardy, and maintain high levels of nutrients well into the dormant season. These varieties can extend the grazing season and reduce the amount of stored forages fed during the winter.

In this letter I will address forage establishment, forage species selection, stockpiling, and grazing management.

Dryland Forage Establishment

Establishing dryland pasture grasses is often tricky. It’s really a matter of timing; getting the seed into the ground at the right depth at the right time to take advantage of spring rain or snowmelt. In the intermountain west, dryland grasses and forbs can be planted either in the fall or spring. If you choose to plant in the fall, ensure that the temperatures have cooled to below 40 degrees F to prevent seed germination too soon. The idea is to get the seed in before the snow falls, and take advantage of moisture from the spring thaw to hydrate the seeds for germination. If you plan to plant in the spring, it’s best to pick a time after spring thaw and before early summer. Summer in the intermountain west often finds dry periods in June and July, depending on your area. If grasses are planted too late they may not have enough moisture to get established. For best results coincide your plantings with spring rains.

Dryland grasses and forbs can be directly seeded into the soil with a range drill. This is often the preferred method in the spring as tillage quickly depletes soil moisture and organic matter. Fall tillage and planting would be appropriate if winter snow supplies moisture for soil hydration and seed germination in the spring.

Forage Species

For your area, I would recommend a mixture of grasses and forbs designed to establish and grow under dry conditions. A typical dryland mixture that should do well in your region is:

Intermediate wheatgrass or
Pubescent wheatgrass 5 pounds per acre
Russian wildrye 3 pounds per acre
Sainfoin 2 pounds per acre
Alfalfa 1 pound per acre

These should be planted ¼ inch deep on 6 to 10 inch rows. If broadcasting seed, double the seeding rate. More information on choosing plant varieties and species can be obtained from the Intermountain Planting Guide published by Utah State University Extension Publications. I do not know what the price is now, I paid about eight dollars for mine. You can get one by calling USU Extension Publications at 435-797-2251.

It is important on rangeland to defer grazing for at least one year after planting to allow grasses and forbs to establish and develop good root systems.

You might contact your area NRCS Conservationist for more information on plants that do well in your area. The USDA has a website with a searchable database of local offices. It can be accessed at

Extending the Grazing Season with Stockpiled Forages

Stockpiling is defined as letting forage grow during summer and defer grazing to the fall or winter. This is an effective way of providing winter forage in some areas and can reduce the need for harvested forage. If it reduces hay use at all, significant savings can be realized. This system works well for early winter when spring-calving cows are in mid-pregnancy. Stockpiled grazing can be followed with meadow feeding of high quality alfalfa hay prior to calving.

Stockpiling has been shown to work well given appropriate pasture management and efficient allocation of dormant pasture during the winter. Many grass species will maintain a relatively high nutrient content and palatability for several months after dormancy begins. Two extra months of grazing can significantly reduce the costs associated with producing and feeding hay. In some cases, producers have been able to utilize stockpiled forage and eliminate the need for hay feeding completely. This usually works better in climates where the dormant grass can be preserved longer under adequate snow cover, and/or because of reduced microbial decomposition caused by low temperatures and limited moisture.

Stockpiled forages can either be limit-fed (allowing only so many hours of grazing per day), or by strip-grazing with a movable electric wire or tape. Other options for feeding stockpiled forages are to swath them with a hay mower, and then rake them into windrows. Cattle can graze directly off the windrow during the winter by using an electric wire or tape to ration hay on a daily basis. This is similar to strip-grazing in that the wire is moved each day to expose a predetermined amount of forage for grazing. This method, while still relying on a tractor to cut and windrow the hay, reduces the amount of fuel, materials, and hay equipment needed for bale and feed hay by eliminating the baling process altogether. This method works best in dryer regions where weathering is less likely to reduce the nutritional quality and palatability of the hay.

Altai wildrye (adapted from Smoliak, et. al.)

Altai wildrye is a native of western Siberia and the Altai Mountain region between Siberia and Mongolia. It thrives well on semi-deserts, steppes and saline soils. It is an excellent pasture grass that extends the grazing season into the fall and winter.
Altai wildrye has good curing qualities, and its erect growth makes it especially useful for late fall and winter grazing. The aftermath from seed production is nutritious, and can be used for fall and winter pasture.

Although the growth of Altai wildrye is coarse, cattle and sheep find it very palatable. It has the ability to retain a high nutritive value throughout summer, fall and into winter. Cattle have made satisfactory gains in September and October on Altai wildrye pasture saved for fall grazing. The erect, basal leaves of Altai wildrye will project above shallow snow and remain erect in deep snow, forming a bridge across the plants, and allow cattle to remove the snow with their muzzles and graze the forage underneath. It produces well, being somewhat better than Russian wildrye in yield and protein content. Also, it produces better quality forage than most other species at both the flowering stage and the mature or cured stage of development. To increase pasture production, include alfalfa with Altai wildrye in alternate rows or in a cross-seeded pattern. In dry areas the rows should be about 36 inches apart, and in moist areas about 18 to 24 inches apart.

Drought-Tolerant Cool-Season Perennial Bunch Grasses (adapted from Smoliak, et. al.)

Pubescent Wheatgrass

Pubescent wheatgrass is a long-lived, sod-forming grass. It has slightly more drought tolerance and ability to spread by rhizomes than intermediate wheatgrass. The plants grow erect with a heavy growth of basal leaves. Stems grow to a height of 3 to 4 feet and produce seed heads that are 4 to 8 inches long. The plants, seed heads and seeds are somewhat hairy.

Seeds of pubescent wheatgrass and intermediate wheatgrass are frequently found as a mixture. The two species readily cross-pollinate. It is more drought tolerant and has more winterhardiness than intermediate wheatgrass. It is useful for hay and pasture. Its outstanding feature is its ability to stay green into the summer months when soil moisture is adequate.

Intermediate Wheatgrass

Intermediate wheatgrass has a deep-feeding root system as well as creeping root stalks. Under irrigation, it is an aggressive sod-former. Under dryland conditions, it appears more like a bunchgrass. It is especially suited to seeding in mixtures with alfalfa because it usually has not flowered when alfalfa is ready to cut. For this reason, the hay cut from the mixture is of excellent quality.

In the drier areas, intermediate wheatgrass yields more than smooth bromegrass and crested wheatgrass for the first three crop years, but then productivity declines. It can be used for hay or pasture in areas where annual rainfall is at least 14 inches.

Russian Wildrye

Russian wildrye is a large, cool-season bunchgrass that is a long-lived perennial. It has an abundance of long, dense, basal leaves that are 6 to 18 inches long and up to 1/4 inch in width. Plants vary from light to dark green, with many shades of blue-green. The erect, naked stems, about 36 inches tall, have flowering heads that form a dense, erect spike. The seed shatters very readily at maturity. The seed is about the same size as crested wheatgrass seed. Germination is high (but slow) and the seed remains viable for five to six years. It may take as many as three years to get a stand from a single, successful planting.

The roots are fibrous and may penetrate to a depth of 8 to 10 feet. About 75 percent of the total roots are in the surface 6 inches, but they have a wide, horizontal spread and may draw heavily on moisture for a distance of 4 to 5 feet. Its long season of growth and its vigorous soil-feeding habit make this species an excellent competitor with weeds once the grass is well established. Wide row plantings (18 to 36 inches) produce more forage than narrow rows.

Russian wildrye is exceptionally tolerant of cold and drought and is highly tolerant of salinity, and is fairly tolerant of alkalinity. Generally, Russian wildrye can be grown successfully wherever crested wheatgrass is grown, but it is primarily a pasture grass.

Russian wildrye requires special attention during the year it is seeded since it is very difficult to establish. It must be planted on a firm, weed-free seedbed at 1/2 inch depths or less.

This grass is well adapted for use as pasture in dry areas, and established stands are more or less permanent. It is as long-lived as crested wheatgrass. The forage is very palatable, having a longer growing period than most dryland grasses with an ability to cure on the stem. This allows for a long grazing season. It is also very tolerant of grazing and regrows quickly after clipping. Although grazing can continue from early spring to winter, it is frequently best to graze this grass lightly in the spring, and save most growth for late summer and fall when other grasses are unproductive or low in quality. It remains palatable and of adequate nutritive quality for mature stock on winter maintenance rations.

Wide row spacing increases production. Yields are also increased by seeding mixtures with legumes. Seeding the legume in alternate rows or cross-seeded rows decreases competition from Russian wildrye.

Introduced Cool-Season Perennial Legumes

Alfalfa (adapted from Smoliak, et. al.)

Alfalfa is very palatable and withstands grazing quite well. Bloat may be a problem, but the hazard is diminished if grazing is delayed until after the bloom stage, or the mixture consists of 50 percent or more grass and rotational grazing is practiced. For dryland pasture plantings (as opposed to irrigated hay meadow plantings), use a more winterhardy variety.


Sainfoin is a cool season perennial legume that is adapted to arid regions that receive as low as 13 inches of annual precipitation. It is considered to be non-bloating and performs well on dry sites. It is generally less productive than alfalfa, and not as long-lived, but when added to a good grass mix, such as pubescent wheatgrass or intermediate wheatgrass, will provide high quality forage during the growing season. It will also make a considerably good dormant season forage if grazed within a month of first frost, before it looses all its leaves to shatter.

Sainfoin is very drought tolerant and winter hardy, making it ideal for eastern Washington. It does not tolerate heavy grazing, however, and must be used within a proper rotational grazing system. Make sure that sainfoin has adequate re-growth time between grazing events and prior to first frost to maintain the stand.

For best results, use a bacterial inoculant on the seeds prior to planting, as this will greatly add to its ability to fix nitrogen and remain productive throughout the year. Sainfoin is very palatable and nutritious, and is best taken as a hay crop when between half to full bloom. Phosphorus fertilization will increase stand viability.

Plant sainfoin at a depth of one-half inch, at a rate of one pound per 10 or so pounds of grass seed for irrigated pastures, and about two pounds for every ten pounds of grass seed for upland or dry pasture settings. For irrigated fields it is best to plant on a prepared seedbed. However, for upland and dryland conditions use a no-till range drill to ensure proper seed to soil contact.

Prescribed Grazing on Rangeland

Prescribed grazing is the method of applying observation to management, observing some more, and then adjusting as needed. There are five steps in developing a grazing plan. They are (1) Inventory, (2) Define Goals, (3) Determine Grazing Units, (4) Develop a Grazing Schedule, and (5) Development of a Monitoring and Evaluation Plan.


This is for gathering baseline information to allow you to make appropriate decisions about land and pasture use. Obtain soil maps from your NRCS office and mark appropriate land forms, soil types, and fences and paddocks. Find out what plants are in each pasture, and evaluate the pastures based upon a condition score. Utilize features such as key species, percent canopy cover, amount of bare ground, presence of noxious weeds, annual forage production in pounds per acre, and amount of residue to determine pasture condition and productivity.

Define Goals

Make a list of what you want to accomplish. This will be a list of your expectations and will guide you in making plans and decisions. Do you want to improve the economic value of the ranch? Maintain wildlife habitat? Improve water quality and quantity? Reduce noxious weeds? Also consider available acreage and the amount of time you have to put into this project.

Determine Grazing Units

Divide the pastures into units that you can rotate animals through. This will allow you to rest pastures and allow for re-growth following grazing. It will also allow you to rotate grazing on a seasonal basis as well. Determine how much forage is available in each grazing unit and map it out. Note key species, percent cover, water availability, facilities, and other aspects important to you. Remember that livestock should always be within at least two hours walking distance from water. This will help you to determine grazing unit size (for large parcels).

Develop a Grazing Schedule

This will be a graphic illustration of your plans for grazing each unit during the grazing season. Develop the schedule based on your total Animal Units (AUs) and available Animal Unit Months (AUMs) in each unit. If you have a 100 acre pasture with 2 AUMs per acre, you have 200 animal unit months of forage available. At 50 percent allowable use, cut it in half to 100 AUMs. This means you have enough forage available to feed 100 animal units for one month. Or, said another way, 50 animal units for two months, 33 for three months, and so on. For more detailed information on calculating AUM’s see the Montana Grazingland Animal Unit Month (AUM) Estimator located at:

Important concepts here are duration of grazing and time for re-growth. Some range ecologists and managers believe that grazing intensity is also important, and it is. A plant needs to have green leaves left after grazing for photosynthesis and subsequent re-growth. However, others feel that grazing severity isn’t as important as re-growth time. Whichever you choose, it is important to remember to allow plenty of time for adequate re-growth before the animal gets to bite a plant a second time.

Take a look at the native plants on an upland range site if you have the opportunity. Some, like bluebunch wheatgrass and rough fescue, are large-statured and can handle several bites from an animal in one grazing event. Some, like Sandburg bluegrass and Idaho fescue, are smaller, and one bite is all it takes to reduce the plant to stubble. Cattle, especially, tend to graze severely, so don’t get too caught up in how much they take off. Strive for 50 percent use, and allow for re-growth. For some sites on dry ranges, this will mean one grazing event per year. For areas with more moisture, you might be able to return every 15 to 30 days for another grazing event.


This is the most neglected part of range management, and the most important. A good monitoring system will allow you to check how your management decisions are working on the ground. It will allow you to determine, for instance, if a particular grazing plan is having the desired effect over time. A monitoring plan will often involve a few important evaluation criteria, such as plant species composition, percent cover, and frequency of species. By comparing these measurements over time, you can start to see trends, and by comparing them to your grazing system, you can alter and adjust where you need to in order to arrive at your goals.

Record keeping is a very important part of pasture monitoring. In addition to recording the afore-mentioned physical measurements, keep track of when livestock enter and leave a pasture, what if any materials or chemicals are used, re-vegetation or weed control treatments, and observations on cattle health while in the pasture. This information will be extremely useful in refining your grazing plans.

Managing for Drought

Drought is a natural ecosystem process. The concept of an “average” or “normal” precipitation or temperature is a fabrication that humans use to try to understand complex systems and attempt to predict behaviors and outcomes. Whether in a humid zone or an arid environment, a producer will experience relative wet and dry years. Dealing with the dry years is a real challenge to livestock operations that rely on water to grow the plants and recharge the aquifers and streams that feed the animals. Having a drought plan is a very important component of a well-thought out farm or ranch management plan.

A drought-management option that deserves serious consideration is for a producer to maintain livestock numbers at 75 percent of carrying capacity for “normal” years, and utilize the extra forage in wet years for high value animals such as stockers. In dry years the pastures will be better able to accommodate current livestock numbers. Another option is to slow down rotations during dry years, thereby allowing more paddock or pasture rest time. This option can be effective especially when the herd is split between different pastures to minimize the impact on drought stressed plants.

If you must de-stock during drought, consider which animals should be the first to go. Do you have low producing females? Do you have older calves that can be sold as stockers? Whichever you do, be sure not to de-stock too late. Pasture that is overstocked and drought-stressed is hard to repair whereas a cow herd can be bought when rains return.


See the ATTRA publication Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management

Smoliak, S., R.L. Ditterline, J.D. Scheetz, L.K. Holzworth, J.R. Sims, L.E. Wiesner, D.E. Baldridge, and G.L. Tibke. Montana Interagency Plant Materials Handbook. Montana State University.

USDA. 2007. Washington State Plant Materials. USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. Website accessed March 1, 2007.


Sayre, Nathan and Kirk Gadzia. 2004. Rangeland Health and Planned Grazing Field Guide. Santa Fe, NM: Quivira Coalition. 1413 Second Street, Suite 1, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505. 505-820-2544

USU Extension. Intermountain Planting Guide. Utah State University Extension Publications. 435-797-2251.



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