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Bovine Johnny Appleseed revitalizes ranges.

Bovine Johnny Appleseed Revitalizes Ranges

Ranchers might someday use cattle, sheep, and goats to upgrade their rangeland--not by consuming undesirable plant species but by spreading the seeds of desirable plants.

Scientists are enlisting the unwitting cooperation of grazing steers to reseed land. They're fed gelatin capsules that contain seed of the plants scientists want to establish on poor-quality rangeland.

"Just like the kind of gelatin capsules we swallow, these dissolve in the stomach. In our case, medicine is released; in the steers' case, seed is released. Moving along with feed in the intestinal tract, the seed is excreted with manure 2 to 3 days later," says Agricultural Research Service plant geneticist Jerry R. Barrow.

Depending on seed size, the scientists filled the gelatin capsules with about 21,000 blue panicgrass seeds, 60,000 alkali sacaton seeds, or 800 fourwing saltbush seeds.

Barrow and range scientist Kris M. Havstad are learning how steers can be used to spread four forage plants native to the Southwest. In their study at the Jornada Experimental Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico, they discovered that about half of the fourwing saltbush, alkali sacaton, and blue panicgrass seed passed through the steers' unharmed. Another grass seed, sideoats grama, was completely digested.

"It would be hard to create a more ideal growing environment for seed--50 percent germinates. When it's planted this way, it's in the middle of manure droppings that contain moisture and all the nutrients plants need to start growing," says Havstad, who is also the research leader for the ARS Range Management Unit in Las Cruces.

Ranchers would feed capsules to their cattle, then lure them to an area that needed reseeding. The lure could be a temporary supply of water or a salt block that most livestock like to lick. Or they could feed cattle, then herd them to remote sections of their ranches so they arrive at areas that need upgrading up to 3 days later.

In this way, millions of acres of public and private rangeland could be improved by introducing more productive plants or by reseeding plants that have disappeared because of drought, past cultivation, or overgrazing.

"In many areas, we can't use mechanical seeding equipment because it might disturb threatened or endangered plants and animals. Other areas should not be tampered with because they are archaeologically important," says Havstad.

"Our cattle graze areas so rough and inaccessible that no conventional seeding equipment or technique could be used to improve the land," says Barrow.

Encouraged by the results, Havstad and Barrow say further research will determine whether goats and sheep can perform a planting service as well.
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Title Annotation:use of cattle to reseed land
Author:Senft, Dennis
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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