Good Grazing Management Improves Forage Production, Even in a Drier Year
Posted on: Mar 28, 2015
The two photos below were taken from the same spot on a Montana ranch pasture. The upper photo was taken in June 2010, while the lower was taken in June 2014. Both photos show pre-grazing conditions on this cattle pasture. The 2014 photo clearly shows a higher level of forage production than does the 2010 (top) photo.
The question is: Which year received more precipitation?
The answer: The top 2010 photo received over three inches more rain than did the 2014 photo. No fertilizer was added, the pasture was not seeded, and it is not irrigated. Yet forage production is clearly higher in the 2014 photo. Why?
This pasture knew a grazing management strategy known as "set stocking" or season-long grazing for many decades. Cattle tended to linger in this area during the growing season, resulting in high utilization rates for lengthy periods in the photographed area. Shortly after the 2010 photo was taken, the ranch altered its grazing strategy for a more intensive management approach. Using temporary electric fencing, the pastue was subdivided into 10 individual units, which allowed plants in this area to receive much more growth opportunity than it had ever known. Plants that were once exposed to herbivory for roughly 150 days now knew grazing for only 10 days per summer, and those same plants had the rest of the summer to grow and propagate. The results of the management practice are clear in the photos.
What's more, as the land began improving in this area, the ranch's stocking rate could climb, meaning more revenue could be generated off the same acres than at any time in the past. This is a strong example showing how good grazing managmement can improve rangeland health and financial performace simultaneously.