Forage kochia is a perennial shrub that is well adapted to dry conditions and provides feed value to cattle. Over four years of research funded through USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, researchers cooperated with ranchers in the area to test the forage. “We’ve reached a point where a lot of times we can’t directly reseed natives into the environment. The soils have been changed” by years of dominance by cheatgrass, says Blair Waldron, a plant geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Utah.
In their research, Waldron, along with Utah State University Extension beef specialist Dale ZoBell and others, demonstrated forage kochia’s adaptability to semi-arid western rangelands. They found pastures combining kochia and crested wheatgrass yielded six times more forage than comparison plots of crested wheatgrass alone, largely due to kochia’s tolerance of drought. This, in turn, means the rangelands with kochia could support 1.38 animals per acre, while the traditional rangelands could support only 0.24 animals per acre.
In previous research, they demonstrated that grazing cattle on kochia and crested wheatgrass from November through January cost participating ranchers 25 percent less than feeding alfalfa hay and resulted in similar body-condition scores. “We concluded these cows that were on forage kochia were near optimal for calving and rebreeding,” Waldron says. By establishing forage kochia on rangeland damaged by invasive weeds, less land would be needed to manage more beef cattle. This allows other land to rest, Waldron says. Additionally, because kochia is perennial, it can act as a barrier against wildfi res that feed off dead annual weeds.