Forage kochia provides late summer through winter grazing on marginal landsWritten by Gayle Smith
The perennial, semi-shrub plant that grows back each year from a woody base is not of the same species as the weedy, annual kochia plant. In fact, forage kochia is native to heavily grazed Central Eurasia and is considered the alfalfa of the desert in their part of the world. The forage is used to fatten sheep, goats and camels in Central Eurasia.
In the United States, the plant is considered one of the few that can be established and will compete with cheatgrass, halogeton and other annual weeds, Sebade explained during the Northern Plains Sheep Symposium in Lead, S.D.
“It has been planted extensively in Utah, Nevada and Idaho as a forage species. It was planted originally to combat a problem weed called halogeton, which is a big problem in this area because it can build up salt that can be poisonous to sheep. Forage kochia will compete with it. It will also fight and combat problem weeds like Russian thistle and cheatgrass,” he added.
Benefits of kochia
Forage kochia carries a lot of protein, so it can be used for grazing during the fall and winter when range plants start to lose their protein. Sebade said studies have shown the plant to have 15 percent crude protein in September and October and 10 percent in January.
For producers growing the plant, he encourages them to pull a sample and send it in for analysis so they know what they have, but it can help the animal meet its nutritional requirements for protein through the winter months.
Sebade has experimented with forage kochia in test plots near Gillette, Hulett and Alzada, Mont.
“I didn’t want to recommend it to anyone until I had tried it myself to see what it can do,” he explained.
He has found the plant provides more protein than grass will later in the season and has tripled production on some of the plots.
“I would encourage anyone who wants to try it to plant it in small amounts first, just to see how it performs and if they like it,” he said.
The plant seems to be equally palatable between horses, sheep and cattle. However, sheep will prefer it more than cattle. Cattle may not graze it in the spring once green grass is available.
The plant grows well in cold desert-like areas in the U.S. and can be established in extremely harsh conditions. It is highly adaptable to saline, alkaline, sandy and clay soils and grows best in marginal, semiarid rangelands receiving five to 15 inches of annual precipitation.
It is not suitable for more productive areas, so it should only be planted on winter range, where cheatgrass is a problem, or on marginal ground and degraded holding pastures, like weaning, ram or replacement pastures.
To plant forage kochia, the seedbed needs to be well prepared, Sebade said. Because the seed is so small, producers should broadcast it, preferably over snow at a rate of one to three pounds per acre. The seed shouldn’t be drilled because it would be planted too deep preventing it from sprouting.
Forage kochia should be planted between November and March, and preferably with some type of native grass, Sebade said.
“It is important to only purchase new seed, because the seed will lose viability after a year,” Sebade said.