September 15, 1998

Multi-Species grazing Project Targets Leafy Spurge
By Steve Merritt
TEAM Leafy Spurge Technology Transfer Specialist

SIDNEY, Montana — In an effort to improve leafy spurge control, the USDA-Agriculture Research Service’s TEAM Leafy Spurge has initiated a multi-species grazing project on spurge-infested rangeland near Sentinel Butte in western North Dakota.

The research and demonstration project, which is being conducted by North Dakota State University’s Hettinger Research Extension Center and Department of Animal & Range Sciences, focuses on integrating cattle and sheep grazing to reduce spurge infestations and restore rangeland productivity. Tim Faller, director of the NDSU Hettinger Research Extension Center and lead investigator of the project, said the concept is simple.

"Cattle won’t utilize leafy spurge, but sheep will once they acquire a taste for it," said Faller, who has had success with sheep-spurge demonstrations near Mandan, N.D. "What we’re trying to determine is if sheep can be used to graze the spurge and open up the range, which would allow for increased production of desirable grasses, shrubs and forbes."

The ultimate goal, he said, is "helping ranchers put a little more money in their pockets" by diversifying their grazing operations, restoring rangeland productivity and increasing land values.

The study involves 1,030 acres of native range divided into four pastures for demonstrations of twice-over and season-long grazing strategies. Cow/calf pairs were stocked according to range conditions and carrying capacity, while yearling ewes were stocked based on the degree of spurge infestation. A variety of data will be collected throughout the life of the project, including "before-and-after" comparisons of leafy spurge stem densities and plant community composition in both infested and non-infested areas; spurge and grass utilization; and cattle and sheep weight gains.

An equally important component of the project is biocontrol. Host-specific leafy spurge flea beetles have been released at the site for the past several years, and researchers are now evaluating how the insects work with sheep and cattle grazing to reduce spurge infestations.

"This is truly an Integrated Pest Management approach to controlling leafy spurge," said Jack Dahl, a range technician who works on the project. "We’re combining different management tools to try and provide better control than what has been achieved through traditional, single-approach control strategies."

One of the landowners involved with the project, Dennis Dietz, said he’s willing to try "just about anything."

"We’ve been battling leafy spurge for years without making any real progress," he said. "I helped my dad pull spurge by hand, and we’ve been spraying it with herbicides for 30 years. We’re hoping this project will give us an affordable alternative that produces good results."

TEAM Leafy Spurge is a five-year IPM research and demonstration project funded and led by the USDA-ARS in partnership with the USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service. Its goal is providing landowners and land managers with proven leafy spurge control techniques based on IPM strategies.

TEAM participants include the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management; land grant universities, including Montana State University, North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University and the University of Wyoming; county weed supervisors, ranchers and land managers.

For more information on TEAM Leafy Spurge, leafy spurge biocontrol or Integrated Pest Management, contact TEAM Leafy Spurge coordinator Chad Prosser at 406-433-9403 (cprosser@sidney.ars.usda.gov). For more information on multi-species grazing, contact Tim Faller at 701-567-4323 (tfaller@ndsuext.nodak.edu).


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