5 Tips for Managing Forage, Grazing Systems

Pasture management and grazing systems vary greatly between regions of North America. No matter when the grazing season begins in your area, there are a few common components in preparing to measure and manage your forage and grazing systems.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

This advice once given to me by a Montana rancher rings true for so many aspects of managing farm or ranch businesses. With tools and technology at your fingertips, as close as on the phone in your pocket, there is not much excuse for avoiding recording and using the information available for the better management of your operations.

As you make plans and enter the grazing season each year, establishing a measurement system for pasture activity is a critical component of management.

cattle grazing systems

1. Know Pasture History

Review historic records, no matter how few or plentiful, to better understand what your forage production levels have been in the past. Take note of changing forage conditions due to weather, grazing pressure, period of utilization, and amount of time allowed for rest and stockpiling. If few records are available, identify events you may need to document moving forward, such as animal units, grazing days, irrigation needs, or harvest dates and quantities.

2. Determine Capacity for Animal Units

Know the carrying capacity for your forage supplies during a normal year. Does this match your current inventory? Make efforts to prevent overgrazing, not only to benefit animal performance but also to maintain the health of your forage stands (particularly late in the season) and in the years ahead. Identify triggers such as changes in forage supplies or animal performance that call for an evaluation of forage and grazing plans.

3. Map Out Your Grazing Season

Have a plan for what your grazing season will look like. Plan for grazing rotations by estimating the number of animal units, amount of forage to be harvested, and rotation order. Utilize pastures to capture forage quality and quantity most efficiently and consider the animals’ nutrient requirements. Start with a plan and consider if routines may be in place simply because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” and consider if more appropriate methods or routines exist.

4. Select Your Tools

Decide which tools you will use to record, collect, and organize measurements gathered throughout the season. Many mobile applications and software packages are available from local Extension programs or nationwide businesses. Something as simple as spreadsheets on Google Drive can help your team record notes in the field and allow records to automatically update when you return to the office.

5. Plan for Flexibility

Weather and events beyond your control will change your plans. Cooler temperatures may prevail or rains may be few and far between during the summer months. As long as you have a plan in place from the beginning, you will have a place to start when adjustments need to be made.

Do not forget to use the measurements you have been recording all season to help determine the best plan of action when the need to be flexible arises.

More on Forage Grazing Systems

For more specific advice in preparing for or managing forage supplies and grazing systems in your area, always use university Extension agents in your state or local consulting professionals. These experts not only will be most familiar with factors contributing to forage and grazing management in your local environment but also will be able to help develop grazing plans and provide monitoring tools.

Visit my column on Successful Farming to discover the 5 Tips for Managing Forage, Grazing Systems.

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