Cattle, Pecan Trees an
Environmentally Sound Mix
Oklahoma ranks second in the nation for
native pecan production and third for its
forage-based beef industry, so it's no surprise
that cattle and pecans co-exist on about
50,000 acres. They make good companions.
Cattle gain weight on grass that otherwise
would require mowing, return nutrients through
manure, and prune the lower limbs of pecan
trees. In return, orchard shade encourages
cattle to graze and gain weight in hot weather.
There's room for improvement in that symbiotic
relationship, however, says Oklahoma State
University (OSU) extension horticulturist
Dean McCraw, who is using a Sustainable Agriculture
Research and Education (SARE) grant to refine
While most pecan/beef cattle operations
use commercial fertilizer and follow a “typical” orchard
spray program, according to McCraw, “Research
has shown that profits and environmental
impacts can be improved by replacing the
purchased nitrogen with legume pastures and
developing a customized pest management system
based on scouting and weather monitoring.
We are looking at how all these components
interact on real farms.”
Legume pastures planted in the orchards
increased daily weight gain for the steers,
improved soil health by reducing grazing
compaction, reduced nitrogen runoff, and
increased habitat for beneficial insects.
Over the 3-year project, native pecan trees
in plots with legume pastures averaged nearly
700 pounds of pecans per acre and more than
250 pounds of beef gain per acre without
any added nitrogen fertilizer.
The result: a savings of nearly $30 per
acre in fertilizer cost while essentially
eliminating fertilizer runoff potential.
The benefit of legumes was most dramatic
in flood-prone plots, where legumes prove
tough enough to withstand excessive water
and out-compete other vegetation.
While the orchard/beef combo proves useful
in eastern Oklahoma, with its 100,000 acres
of native pecan trees, another SARE project
is helping ranchers find the system that
best suits their own resources.
Damona Doye, OSU extension economist, used
case studies of cow/calf operations to identify
management strengths and weaknesses in animal
science, forages, financial management, and
herd health. During the course of the multi-state
project, more than 100 ranchers in three
states identified potential cost-saving measures
of about $3,000 annually each.
Doye shared case study findings with other
producers during information exchange forums
and offered training to veterinarians and accountants
so they can better assist their farm clients
to improve resource management practices.
Back to Sustainable Agriculture Home Page