Improving productivity, diversity in old crested wheatgrass stands

In our inaugural Rural Resilience webinar Jan. 19, Dr. Dave Naugle shared key tools and ideas around the scientific basis for investing in grazing communities to conserve wildlife, introduced exciting new technological innovations in rangeland monitoring, and communicated the potential benefits of transforming expired CRP acres into valued assets of your grazing operation.

If you missed the live webinar, the recording is now available on our YouTube page. Registration is still open for future webinars.

One topic that surfaced many times in the webinar chat box and in the discussion following Dr. Naugle's presentation was the challenge grazers face in rejuvenating or adding diversity to established stands of crested wheatgrass.

In the post-event survey, we asked our ranching participants to share their experiences and experiments with grazing old crested wheatgrass. Here, we're sharing their responses in hope that it sparks ideas if you're seeking, and creates space for you to comment with your own successes or failures. The survey responses were shared anonymously.

What has been your experience with improving the productivity or stand diversity in old crested wheat grass plantings? What experiences have you had or experiments have you tried, and to what results?

I like to use them in early March almost like a stockpiled native grass. That time of year the cows really go after those early green shoots in the middle of the bunches.


Just starting to work on that. Bought my own no till drill. Seeded some old crested alfalfa hay fields back to native grass this winter after being in cover crops for 1 to 3 years.


We used an old crested field for spring calving and the native very slowly started moving in. We were good with having the mix and like some crested for places where it gets heavy use in the spring.


Some responded well to just herbicide, but most often crested won.


We have both farmed and sprayed crested wheatgrass monocultures with minimal success.


Targeted grazing has allowed old stands of crested to start to move to greater diversity. I've tinkered with several approaches and had some success by: let crested get wolfy for a year or two if possible to reduce vigor and produce fungal-feeding litter in the system; broadcast desirable seed (big sage, purple prairie clover, green needlegrass, western wheatgrass, blue grama and dryland, spreader alfalfa) on the ground; graze intensively to get standing matter trampled to the ground and get current year's growth down to ~2-3" tall -- then get out and stay out until the area needs grazing again to favor establishment of desirable species. Big sage and alfalfa came in pretty good; some western got established; prairie clover, blue grama and green needlegrass didn't take in the competitive environment though some plants came up in previously bare patches (claypan microsites). Worked best done in April when the fall moisture had been only moderate and we had some good summer moisture.

Bale feeding didn't work very well for me -- probably would work better with cattle than with sheep. Application of high-quality composted straw and sheep waste (broadcast through manure spreader at average depth of 1/2" but very patchy distribution) stimulated the existing plants and depressed establishment of desirables. Poor result with using canola fed on the ground in the winter to concentrate cattle -- killed the sage while the crested loved the trampling and concentrated nutrients. Next experiment probably combining targeted grazing with application of biostimulants (vermicast and/or Johnson-Su bioreactor product).

I don't see Rx fire as an answer for me as I suspect low soil organic matter may be part of what gives crested an edge. I would be really interested in a study that examines soil biota in same soil types with different veg communities -- what are the key differences, if any, between places where crested/sweet clover/Japanese brome are dominant or increasing versus native plant dominated communities? If differences are found, can we tweak plant species composition by tweaking soil biota (ala Nicole Masters, Marin County Carbon Project, etc.)?


We just have small spots. So we just be sure and graze them when the cows will eat them.


We had a club moss infested crested wheat field. Dow chemical did a plot trial on it looking for a chemical solution; that proved to be fruitless. We tried grazing it very hard for short periods of time for multiple years; that proved to be mostly non-affective. We then tried spiking it with our toolbar. We had excellent results from that! Production increased at least 500% and there is better plant diversity as well. That had to have been 15 years ago and it remains very productive.

Thanks to these participants who shared their experiences and experiments. Please comment below with your own, or with resources you've found helpful. 

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