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Long-Term Grazing Intensity Research in the Missouri Coteau of North Dakota





The objective of this study is to determine what stocking rate would result in the greatest economic return to the livestock producer in the long run. The results of this study indicate that for the past 18 years, the optimum stocking rate would be 2.09 AUM/acre. However, for a number of reasons, we feel this stocking rate may be too heavy to recommend. First, the extreme and heavy pastures have been deteriorating in condition through the course of the study and may not be able to support the rates of gain we have seen in the past. Also, both profits and losses are higher at higher stocking rates depending on the difference between spring and fall livestock prices. The producer would experience more years with negative returns at the higher stocking rates.


It appears that the moderate stocking rate may be too conservative if maximizing profit is the objective. In only four out of 18 years, returns would have been higher with a stocking rate less than the moderate rate of 1.09 AUM/acre. In all other years, a higher stocking rate would have resulted in higher returns. For a stocker operation in this area, the optimum stocking rate would fall in the range of 1.09 to 2.09 AUM/acre. In lower rainfall areas farther west in the state, these values would be reduced.


These stocking recommendations cannot be applied to a cow-calf operation because calf gains are largely dependent on the cows’ milk production. Higher stocking rates could reduce the cows’ condition and conception rates and result in higher over-wintering costs to bring the cows back up to condition to calve in the spring. Also, season-long grazing is used in this study. However, we recommend a rotation grazing system. By concentrating cattle on a smaller area for a shorter period of time, more of the grass plants will receive use. Later, when the cattle are moved back into the area, they can graze regrowth on the plants they grazed on the first rotation. In this way, producers can take advantage of the higher forage quality found on the extreme grazing treatment and still give plants a rest, thereby avoiding the reduced production also found on the extreme grazing treatment.


Future Research


We plan to continue this research for a number of years. Changes in the forage production and the plant species composition of the pastures are still continuing in response to the different grazing treatments and variation in annual weather patterns and these factors will affect the animals’ responses to the grazing treatments. The pastures in this study are also being used to study the effect of grazing intensity on soil properties and soil hydrology, and for an ecosystem-modeling project.


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NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center
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