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Intermountain Irrigated Pasture Project

Animal Science Farm Field and Barns


The Intermountain Irrigated Pasture Project was founded in 2005 through a long-term lease with Dennis W. and Karen T. Jackson and Wells and Jodie Jackson Family Trust. The project site contains 113 acres divided into 13 study areas ranging from 9-10 acres, and an overflow grazing area of 6 acres. In addition, buildings are available to be used as freezing and drying areas, as well as a harvested forage storage area. Each of the research areas is surrounded by a high-voltage electric fence. The project builds on previous work done by an interdisciplinary team of UAES researchers regarding pasture management.

Research Topics

The project has focused on forage development that is viable under an intensively managed grazing system and on various livestock studies in which cattle and sheep are grazed under management intensive systems. Forages studied include native and introduced grasses, a variety of legumes, and other forbs. Animal systems include cow-calf, calf backgrounding and cattle finishing. Other studies include sheep under different grazing strategies, work related to the Behavioral Education for Human, Animal, Vegetation & Ecosystem Management (BEHAVE) group at USU.





Research Projects

Tannin-containing legumes in pasturelands and their ecological services

Project Lead: Juan Villalba

The sustainability of U.S. agriculture is threatened by the degradation and/or loss of ecosystem services through natural processes or human interventions such as reduced biological diversity, water and air pollution, and loss of soil quality. As an example, US wetlands and grasslands have been converted to cropland for the production of annual feed grains, reducing the ecosystem services provided by these lands. In order to reverse this trend, we propose the development of a transformative tannin-containing legume-based beef production system. We will determine the ecosystem services (production, environmental impacts and profitability) provided by our proposed system relative to current beef production systems in which beef cattle are fed and finished on either irrigated “conventional” pasture or in a feedlot. We expect that ecosystem services will be enhanced for both the cow-calf and the finishing phases of beef production in this alternative system. This project addresses the supporting ecosystem services of nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration by eliminating the need to feed cereal grains, and consequently annual grain cultivation and fertilization, from all phases of beef production. It addresses provisioning services by supporting the tradition of regional livestock production in rural America, it addresses the regulating ecosystem service of mitigating climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with the current US beef system, and it addresses cultural ecosystem services by providing local food products with a more healthful nutrient content.

Employing Forage Legumes to Improve the Sustainability of Ruminant Production

Project Lead: Jennifer MacAdam

The long-term goal of this project is to improve the profitability of Utah livestock producers, reduce the negative environmental impact of ruminant production and increase the food security of residents of Utah and the northern Mountain West. Beef and dairy production account for a large proportion of Utah's agricultural output. Feed costs are the most expensive input for livestock operations, and the efficiency of feed use can have a significant effect on both the profitability of a livestock operation and its environmental impact. Western livestock producers can increase the productivity of privately owned land by increasing the use of legumes, particularly those that can be grazed without fear of bloat. They can also increase the profitability of livestock production by marketing natural or organic meat directly to the high concentration of urban residents and restaurants.

Economic and environmental sustainability of heifer development strategies in pasture-based organic dairy systems

Project Lead: S. Clay Isom

Dairy products constitute the second largest sector of the organic agriculture industry in the US. And dairy cow replacement costs are second only to feed costs in magnitude for the average dairy farm: between one-third and one-fourth of the entire herd is replaced every year. In order to maximize herd lifetime productivity (and thus sustainability), dairy heifers should be raised to approximately 60% of their mature body weight and bred by 15 months, in order to calve by their second birthday. This management challenge is not a simple one, even in conventional confinement-feeding programs. Given the National Organic Program requirement that ruminant animals be managed on pasture and graze daily throughout the grazing season, heifer development within organic systems is even more challenging, and more costly than in confinement systems. The primary objective of the current proposal is to innovate new strategies for organic forage-based dairy heifer development, and then to inspire widespread adoption of these practices for enhanced farm sustainability. The central hypothesis for the research arm of the proposal is that high energy grasses in combination with a high protein condensed tannin-containing legume will maximize growth, health, and reproductive characteristics in developing organic dairy heifers, along with improved nutrient cycling and economic sustainability. Ours is a truly “integrated” project, incorporating research, outreach, and educational components of crop science, animal science, environmental science and economics in order to make organic dairy heifer development a sustainable practice in every sense of the word.

Cattle Methane Emissions, Nitrogen Use and Fatty Acid Processing of Legumes

Project Lead: Jennifer MacAdam

The objectives of project 1329 are to determine the methane emissions, fatty acid concentrations, rates of feed passage, and nitrogen partitioning in waste of cattle on three types of pasture (a grass, a tannin-containing legume, and a non-tannin legume) and on feedlot diets. We have evidence from previous studies and review of the literature linking these factors to improved economic and environmental sustainability. The objectives of project 1260 are basic research comparing the effects of rangeland, irrigated pastures and annually cropped irrigated land on rates microbial mineralization of carbon, and thus carbon sequestration.