NDSU Extension Service - Mercer County

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Determine Grazing Readiness Prior to Pasture Turnout

livestock grazing, grazing forage, grazing readiness

Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources

Spring, according to the calendar anyway, is here and soon it will be time to turnout livestock onto pasture. Producers need to make sure their forages are ready to be grazed before turnout. When hay supplies start to run low producers look at alternative options and turning out livestock onto pasture is one option. The exact time to turnout livestock onto pasture depends on the type of pasture you have. An average turnout date for native pastures will be different from tame pastures.  Weather also plays a factor. With the current below normal temperatures for this time of the year, grass development has been delayed causing the grazing readiness of the plant to be later. Therefore, turnout dates will be later this year. This may cause problems come late summer and into early fall if turnout is too early. Below is an article addressing this issue.

"Grazing forage too early in the spring can be costly in terms of total forage production during the entire grazing season," North Dakota State University Extension Service rangeland management specialist Kevin Sedivec says. "Grazing before grass plants reach the grazing readiness phase causes a reduction in herbage production, which can reduce stocking rate and animal performance."

The timing of grazing readiness depends on a number of factors, including the species of grass, available moisture, weather and past management. Because of these factors, the exact timing of grazing readiness can vary across a state.

The specialists say that grazing readiness for most domesticated pasture is at the three-leaf stage, whereas grazing readiness for most native range grasses is the 3½-leaf stage. In North Dakota, most cool-season native range grasses typically reach grazing readiness in mid to late May, which is the recommended time to begin grazing native range. Domesticated grass pastures, such as crested wheatgrass and smooth brome, reach grazing readiness two to four weeks earlier than native range, permitting grazing in late April to early May.

"It is important to monitor grazing readiness of your pastures prior to turnout," Meehan says. "Because of the ecological and economic impacts of grazing native rangeland prior to grazing readiness, the rangeland may take years to recover if livestock are allowed to overgraze for many years in a row."

For more information on determining grazing readiness, contact your county office of the NDSU Extension Service or visit http://tinyurl.com/grassmgmt for NDSU Extension's "Ranchers Guide to Grassland Management IV."

Source: Kevin Sedivec, 701-231-7647, kevin.sedivec@ndsu.edu

Source: Miranda Meehan, 701-231-7683, miranda.meehan@ndsu.edu

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