NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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Grazing Too Early Can Decrease Forage Production

grazing, grazing forage, pasture development

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

Pasture development is behind normal growth this spring. Ranchers need to scout their pastures to determine grass development stages. Turning cattle out onto pasture that is not at least at the three-leaf stage could cause major issues later on in the summer. Below is an article written on how a rancher determines when to turn cattle out onto pasture. While this can be a hard decision to make when feed supplies are short, it can pay huge dividends later on in the season. Therefore, the question is, would you rather feed more now or start feeding again in August?

In an effort to get them out of muddy lots, many producers turned livestock out on grass earlier than normal this spring. While this decision likely enhanced herd health, it can have long-term impacts on grasslands if supplemental feed is not provided, says Miranda Meehan, North Dakota State University Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist.

“Grazing forage too early in the spring can be costly in terms of total forage production during the entire grazing season,” Meehan says. “Grazing before grass plants reach the grazing readiness phase causes as much as a 60% 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. As a result of these factors, the exact timing of grazing readiness can vary across a state and from pasture to pasture.

“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,” she says.

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. However, in 2020 we are at least three weeks behind the average. Most pastures have not yet reach the three-leaf stage.

“It is important to monitor grazing readiness of your pastures prior to turnout,” she 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 Extension office, visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/naturalresources/gearing-up-for-grazing .

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

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