Rangeland is a rancher’s most important asset. With healthy rangelands, livestock operations reach optimal performance due to cattle grazing on higher-quality forage later into the season. This leads to more efficient production and increased profitability. One of the greatest threats to rangeland is invasive annual grasses such as cheatgrass. When left unmanaged, it severely reduces forage yield and quality, cheating ranchers out of hundreds of dollars per head.
Cheatgrass is aggressive. It competes fiercely with more desirable forage by germinating and growing rapidly during the seasonal and limited moisture cycles that are crucial for perennial plant growth. The presence of cheatgrass makes cattle much more selective, causing them to overutilize the noninfested areas, which enables the continued spread of cheatgrass.
The cost of cheatgrass invading land can add up because livestock graze by the mouthful instead of tweezers and quickly abandon infested acres, leaving behind unharvested forage and lost pounds of gain. Livestock would be required to consume an additional 300 pounds of forage per month to make up for the reduced feed quality. Even with the increased consumption, performance still slips and ranchers are often required to provide additional livestock supplements to maintain body condition. Cheatgrass timing is also problematic. As forage quality rapidly declines in cheatgrass-infested rangeland, livestock and wildlife needs are peaking.
In addition to its negative effects on operations, cheatgrass can also be devastating to the environment. It keeps the ecosystem in a constant state of drought. Cheatgrass matures early and is very flammable, quickly becoming the fuel that ignites and carries wildfires. Its burn is rapid and very intense, destroying native species and causing tragic losses to ranchers, the broader rangeland community and the ecosystem. In a healthy rangeland system, wildfires are infrequent, with a cycle that can be 100 years or more. Now, wildfires can be as frequent as every five to 10 years in part because of the thousands of acres of cheatgrass occupying rangelands.
While ignoring or partially controlling cheatgrass seems like a more affordable solution, it is actually more expensive and less efficient in the long term for ranchers than eliminating it. Real-world trials show that when ranchers eliminate cheatgrass before it emerges, they earn up to a 3.5 times increase in production, reduced feed cost of $50-$100 per head and reduced labor costs of $15-$25 per head. Using a preemergence herbicide, like Rejuvra® herbicide from Bayer, breaks the cycle of germination and future seed production, offering up to four years of protection. This transforms rangeland and profit potential long term.
Making the decision to invest in rangeland for the long term not only saves the bottom line but it also offers additional benefits for the environment. When forage quality goes up, livestock consume less, putting less pressure on the ecosystem. With all of the resources available, there is a much higher moisture content in the perennial grasses compared to the cheatgrass-infested areas. This reduces fire danger as well as increases livestock performance.
Most importantly, eliminating cheatgrass benefits future generations of ranchers. Our rangelands are our biggest asset and vital to long-term success and sustainability. Healthy, high-performing cattle come from healthy rangelands. Thriving native grasses come from utilizing good grazing practices and controlling cheatgrass. We want to leave future generations of ranchers healthy, high-performing rangeland. That is why now is the time to invest in transforming them for the long haul.