By Lauren Manninen
Soil Conservationist, USDA-NRCS 

Spring grazing plans for the upcoming season


Spring weather is right around the corner which means now is the time to start thinking about grazing plans for the upcoming growing season. A grazing plan can help improve species composition and the structure and vigor of plant communities across a ranch. By taking the time to plan out a sound grazing plan and monitoring its effectiveness throughout the year, the forage production and quality may improve over time.

A good grazing plan accounts for timing, duration, and utilization. That means estimating the amount of available forage, planning out the stocking rates and a creating a grazing schedule for each field. Before planning for the year it is a good idea to look back at previous years' grazing records to see how fields were utilized.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when developing a grazing system.

Timing: on native rangeland, alter periods of use (early, mid, late) from year to year. Rotating deferment between fields encourages reproductive recovery of key species.

Duration: try to graze fields for 45 days or less at a time. If implementing a twice over rotational system allow adequate rest and regrowth between grazing events. Grazing for shorter durations allows plants time to recover during the growing season and reduces the selective re-grazing of preferred plants.

Utilization: take half leave half, on key species (the good forage plants one is managing for) leave enough green leaf area to support the energy needs of plants. In general, root growth is significantly reduced after utilization of a plant exceeds 50%. Leaving more stubble and rotating regularly allows plants to develop deeper and more robust root systems, allowing them to recover faster from grazing, and promoting more grass production over the course of the growing season. In areas where utilization exceeds 50%, building adequate recovery periods into a grazing system is key to maintaining healthy, productive plants.

Improved overall range health will promote better plant health, water quality, soil quality, wildlife habitat and the sustainability of an operation.


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