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Forage Quantity and Quality Dynamics Due to Weathering over the Dry Season on California Annual Rangelands

  • Author(s): Larsen, RE
  • Shapero, MWK
  • Striby, K
  • Althouse, LD
  • Meade, DE
  • Brown, K
  • Horney, MR
  • Rao, DR
  • Davy, JS
  • Rigby, CW
  • Jensen, KB
  • Dahlgren, RA
  • et al.

Livestock obtain forage by grazing on rangeland. In California annual rangelands, residual dry matter is commonly used to determine proper grazing levels. Rangeland forage biomass and quality can degrade dramatically during the dormant summer period. We examined 25 sites across an annual rainfall gradient (183–492 mm) over 3 contrasting rainfall yr (2015–2017) that varied from 57% to 152% of average annual precipitation. Overall fractional biomass loss was 54.4% (range = 46.5–61.5%) with greater fractional losses occurring in dry years. Biomass losses were related to the amount of peak standing crop and plant composition—both a function of annual precipitation. Fractional seasonal losses from the peak standing biomass in 2015 = 962 kg/ha (61.5% seasonal; 9.7% monthly), 2016 = 1 541 kg/ha (55.0% seasonal; 8.7%monthly) and 2017 = 1 923 kg/ha (46.5% seasonal; 7.3%, monthly). Forage quality metrics were strongly affected by summer weathering processes. Crude protein concentrations decreased by 33.6%, 27.7%, and 21.0% in 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively. In contrast, relative concentrations of fiber and lignin (acid detergent fiber [ADF] = cellulose + lignin) and in the weathered biomass showed increases for ADF: 44.6% (2015), 32.2% (2016), and 24.1% (2017). Increased lignin varied: 3.4% in 2015, 23.9% in 2016, and 28.0% in 2017. While ADF and lignin concentrations (weathered biomass, kg/ha) increased during the weathering process, the standing stock decreased by 39.3% (ADF) and 46.6% (lignin), compared with overall weathered biomass loss of 54.4% and CP loss of 67.1%. The significant loss of aboveground biomass and forage quality as weathering processes occurred throughout the dry summer period affects livestock grazing strategies. Forage biomass and nutrient losses through the dry season should be considered when determining grazing strategies to achieve proper residual dry matter levels and nutrient supplementation regimes before the onset of the rainy season.

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