BURNS, Ore. - Steers liked the crested wheats Hycrest II and Nordan the best of eight grass varieties tested recently at Oregon State University's Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center at Burns.

In fact, the steers preferred the two varieties by such a big margin that the researchers suggest Hycrest II and Nordan as "excellent candidates for pasture reclamation or establishment in beef production programs" in similar arid grasslands.

David Ganskopp, an OSU and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientist, led the project, which compared the two crested wheats and the grasses Goldar, Bannock, Secar, Bozoisky, Magnar and Trailhead.

"All the varieties provided suitable forage for cattle through the growing season and into early dormancy," Ganskopp said.

But, he said, Hycrest II and Nordan are the best choices because of their proven ease of establishment, competitive ability, nutritional value, grazing tolerance and palatability.

Steers like them better, too. This was determined by how often steers "visited" and bit into those varieties compared to the others.

To track steer preference, each grazing steer was accompanied by an observer with a backpack-mounted platform and a lap-top computer. The observer tallied each bite.

"When grasses were green, Hycrest II was clearly the most preferred forage with 31 percent of total bites," Ganskopp said. Next, in order, were Nordan, Goldar, Bannock and Secar.

When grasses were "cured" (mature and no longer growing), steers were less selective. Five varieties were acceptable: Hycrest II, Nordan, Bannock, Goldar and Bozoisky. Magnar and Trailhead were avoided by the steers and accounted for less than 5 percent of the total bites.

"The less palatable varieties might be used in critical or sensitive areas to discourage livestock grazing and or preservation of ground cover," Ganskopp said.