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Get your stocking rate right

Animal intake and pasture productivity are two considerations when deciding on stocking rate.

April 19, 2021

2 Min Read
Cows grazing
STOCK THEM RIGHT: It is tempting to keep your stocking rate the same year after year, but that practice does not take into consideration changes in forage availability from year to year, plus potential changes in your herd genetics and grazing land management. Curt Arens

Stocking pastures with the right number of animals is one of the cornerstones of proper grazing management. It’s tempting to take the easy route and keep using the same rate year after year. After all, if it’s not broke, why fix it? But over time, could this approach do more harm than good? 

While we might be aware of the importance of proper stocking, we may fail to properly adjust rates to match the reality of our operation. Proper stocking depends on two factors — animal intake and pasture productivity. Changes to either of these factors, even if they take place so slowly that we don’t notice, can throw the balance off. 

Production can change for the worse or the better. Improving management practices such as resting pastures, fertilization or improving distribution may actually have improved production and led to understocking over time. 

On the flip side, prolonged overgrazing — or encroachment of invasive species such as leafy spurge or cedar trees — can eat away production. It is estimated that a single cedar tree with an 8-foot diameter could reduce forage production by 3 pounds. if you had a density of 200 trees per acre, that would translate into nearly a one-third loss in forage production because of the effects of area coverage, moisture use and shading.

Related:Grazing tour planned for summer

When we look at the demand side, animal size has a direct correlation with consumption. A 1,400-pound cow will naturally need to consume more than a 1,200-pound animal. While this difference may seem small (5.2 pounds of air-dried forage per day), this quickly adds up across the herd and over the grazing season. 

Add on top of that increased demand from high milk and production genetics we’ve selected for over time, and it’s safe to say the average cow today consumes more forage than its counterpart 20 years ago.

Beckman is a Nebraska Extension educator.

Source: UNL Pasture and Forage Minute, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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