Beef cattle production from rangelands in the Southern Great Plains has decreased in concert with herbaceous forage production declines in response to woody plant encroachment by honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa Torr.) over the past 120 yr. Combinations of livestock overstocking and fire suppression are considered to be primary drivers of these changes. This experiment evaluated cow–calf production responses over a 7-yr (1995–2001) period to ranch-scale (1 294–2 130 ha) integrated restoration strategies involving prescribed fire and grazing management. Restoration strategies tested in this year-round grazing ecosystem were 4-pasture, 1-herd rotation with fire (25% of pasture acreage burned each year; 4:1F); an 8-pasture, 1-herd rotation, with fire (8:1F); and a 4-pasture, 1-herd, with fire and aerial application of 0.28 kg · ha−1 clopyralid 0.28 kg · ha−1 triclopyr herbicide (4:1F / H). Restoration strategies were compared to a continuous grazing strategy with no mesquite treatment. All cattle stocking rates were moderate (7.5–15 ha · animal unit−1 · year−1) and all fires were applied during late winter. Beef cattle (cow–calf) production variables measured included conception rate, weaned calf percentage, weaning weight, weight of calf per exposed cow, weight of calf per hectare, and supplement fed per cow. We observed significant differences in beef production among strategies primarily during the first 2 yr where the continuous grazing strategy exhibited better overall livestock production than the integrated restoration strategies. Differences in livestock production among strategies were minimal over the last 5 yr of the study. These livestock production results suggest livestock and management adapted to restoration strategies after the first 2 yr. Results point to the need to cautiously transition into integrated grazing and fire restoration strategies when cattle and management are changed and intensified from prior historical protocols.
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Vol. 63 • No. 3