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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: A comparison of native tallgrass prairie and plains bluestem forage systems for cow-calf production in the Southern Great Plains
Year: 2001
Author(s): Coleman, S. W., Phillips, W. A., Volesky, J. D., Buchanan, D.
Source Title: Journal of Animal Science
Source Type: Journal
pages: 1697-1705
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: The objective of this study was to compare an introduced warm-season perennial grass (plains bluestem, Bothriochloa ischaemum) to native tallgrass prairie for cow-calf production. Three systems were used, two based on tallgrass prairie with two different forms of protein supplementation and one based on plains bluestem as the primary forage. The systems were as follows: 1) native tallgrass prairie with pelleted oilseed meal as the winter protein supplement (native-control); 2) native tallgrass prairie with limited access to wheat pasture as the winter protein supplement (native-wheat); and 3) plains bluestem with limited access to wheat pasture as the protein supplement (bluestem-wheat). Oilseed meal protein supplements were fed twice weekly. Cows grazing wheat pasture were allowed 6 h of grazing twice weekly. Ninety-nine cows per year were used over the 3-yr study. Cows were sired by either Charolais, Gelbvieh, Angus, or Hereford bulls out of commercial Angus-Hereford dams. Calves were sired by Simmental bulls. Calving and weaning rate increased over time but did not differ among systems or breed types. System did not influence the size or body condition score of cows or the performance of calves, but changes in the weight and condition scores of cows were greater on either native system than on the bluestem-wheat system. Cows from Charolais and Gelbvieh bulls were taller (P < 0.05), and heavier (P < 0.05), and weaned heavier (P < 0.05) calves than cows from Angus or Hereford bulls. The weight of cows on the bluestem-wheat system tended to decrease over time, whereas cows grazing on the native systems tended to gain weight over time. The native-control system was the most profitable system based on cow production. If excess hay produced from the bluestem-wheat system was sold as a cash crop, then this system was the most profitable. In general, we conclude that limit-grazing wheat pasture is a viable alternative to oilseed meal as protein supplement for wintering dry cows. Although the bluestem system had 2.5 times the carrying capacity of the native prairie systems, increased productivity was offset by increased production costs. All systems were equal on a cow basis for providing nutrients for the cow-calf production system.