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Gearing Up for Grazing

One of the most important grazing management decisions land managers make is selecting a start date for grazing tam pasture and native range. Monitoring grazing readiness ensures that grazing starts at the proper time, when plants are tolerant of grazing. Grazing before grass plants reach the grazing readiness phase causes a reduction in herbage production, which can reduce stocking rate and animal performance. The goal of this program is to improve the condition of grazing resources through improving knowledge of grazing readiness.

Determining Grazing Readiness

The simplest way to determine grazing readiness is to monitor plant developmental stage. The Haun developmental scale is an easy-to-use scale to determine the developmental stage of forage grasses. This scale is a numerical expression of the number of leaves produced on a main stem.

Most cool-season grass plants produce a maximum of six leaves on stems before reaching the reproductive stage or produce a head. Plants that remain vegetative will continue to produce leaves if water is available. Fewer than six leaves may be produced if plants are under severe water, nutrient or high-temperature stress.

Grazing readiness stages

Grazing readiness can also be estimated using growing degree days, as it requires a specific amount of heat to produce each leaf.

 

For more detailed information on determining grazing readiness contact your local Extension Agent or read "Determining Grazing Readiness for Native and Tame Pastures."

Why Monitoring Grazing Readiness

The timing of grazing readiness depends on a number of factors, including the species of grass, available moisture, weather and past management. Plant development can vary between locations across the state and between years.

Smooth Bromegrass Stages

Smooth Brome Grass Development Line Chart
This graph show the variation in grazing readiness of smooth bromegrass between 2017 and 2018 in North Dakota. In 2017 smooth bromegrass reached grazing readiness on April 24, whereas it reached grazing readiness on May 4 in 2018.

Western Wheatgrass Stages

Western Wheatgrass Development Line Chart
This graph depicts the large amount of variability in the developmental stage of western wheatgrass across North Dakota counties in 2018.

For more information on grazing readiness in your area check out the grazing readiness reports from participating counties. Please contact your local County Agent if you are interested in assisting with the program by monitoring grazing readiness on your ranch.

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