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Livestock critical to range and cropland longevity

Dakota Lakes consultant Cody Zilverberg discusses how bringing back native species will benefit livestock, other native animals, pollinators and the soil.

Over two podcasts, Dakota Lakes consultant Cody Zilverberg describes a unique journey from his central South Dakota ranch youth to computer science, teaching in Guatemala, then rediscovering agriculture.

He has combined degrees in agronomy, ag economics, livestock systems and nutrition. Dwayne Beck recognized Zilverberg’s quality research into livestock integration and welcomed his skills back to Dakota Lakes six years ago. In these podcasts with Robin “Buz” Kloot, Zilverberg discusses livestock as a management tool that improves soil, expands native grasses and brings perennials back into cropping systems profitably.

Valuable nuggets from Podcast #28: Integrating Livestock Back on the Land (Annuals)

  • “With the Ogallala Aquifer drying up, my Texas Ph.D. research focused on alternative ideas to deal with this issue. Being forage people, we planted cropland back to grass to use less or no irrigation water. We ended up integrating livestock to graze millet that was rotated with cotton and we put some of the land back into native perennial grass.”

  • “At Dakota Lakes [working with recently-retired Dwayne Beck and new manager Sam Ireland] we see livestock as a tool we can manage to modify the environment. For instance, we’re researching how heavier spring grazing can both utilize the nutrition of these common exotic non-native grasses (smooth brome, bluegrass) while stimulating an increase in native warm-season grasses for better year-around, smaller paddock pasture grazing.”

  • “We move cattle to new paddocks daily or weekly to influence more native grass species depending on the time of year. If we can get more natives back, it’ll be more beneficial for livestock, other native animals, pollinators and the soil.”

  • Our research on cover crops following wheat harvest shows we can deliver suitable biomass for cattle grazing with irrigation. We don’t always have enough moisture on dryland acres but like Dwayne says, if you don’t plant, you’re going to fail every year.”

Other Topics covered in this podcast:

  • Cover crop swaths grazed in winter to reduce or eliminate bales.

  • The soil biology value of hooves, urine and feces even in winter.

  • The fertility and economic savings from keeping crops and cattle in the field.

  • The future value of livestock and the need to promote planet benefits.

Valuable nuggets from Podcast #29: Integrating Livestock Back on the Land (Perennials)

In this bonus podcast, Zilverberg talks about current Dakota Lakes research on adding perennials to annual crop rotations.

  • “We’re in the early stages of research, so we have a lot to learn. For example, on one of our dryland rotations, we’re going to have 15 years of annual crops then five years of perennials such as switchgrass. We’ve seeded wheat with switchgrass and seeded corn into standing switchgrass.”

  • “Switchgrass did drag our corn yield down a bit. Where we had the best switchgrass, we lost about 27 bushels per acre. But with a lighter seeding rate, we only lost four bushels. We can’t draw conclusions yet based on one year, one set of conditions, but it has piqued our interest.”

  • “To reestablish native warm-season grasses, we’re seeding some natives like little bluestem, big bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass and others that may or may not have seeds in the soil anymore. “In the third year of trials, we finally got rain and all the tallgrass species appeared, mostly big bluestem, where we used glyphosate to control the exotic grasses. We learned that just switching our grazing management wasn't enough to change things over this short period. Seeding truly helped. We now have a very diverse, deeper-rooted pasture, not as densely populated with those tall grasses as we would like, but they are there.”

Other highlights of this episode:

  • Current research with alfalfa as the perennial instead of switchgrass to add nitrogen to the soil and the animal.

  • How deeply rooted species will access more water and nutrients, and how management will help native grasses increase.

Listen to these two podcasts (#28 and #29) to learn more details of Zilverberg’s work at Dakota Lakes. And visit the podcast page to view many rangeland topics from the Growing Resilience Through Our Soils series.


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