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Range & Pasture Management

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If you want to graze livestock on your land, it is important to implement sustainable Grazing Management practices that will boost your pasture’s productivity rather than deplete it. Indications that your pasture health may be declining include: an abundance of weeds, an increased prevalence of bare ground, and stock consuming excess dirt while grazing. Livestock may also experience weight loss; poor coat condition; heightened incidence of colic and respiratory issues; or they may start eating trees, shrubs, fences, and barns due to the lack of forage on the ground. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Middle Park Conservation District (MPCD) can help you formulate a Grazing Management Plan specific to your property.

Proper Grazing Management

Take Half, Leave Half

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The chart above depicts the age-old saying, "Take Half, Leave Half.” By removing only half the amount of leaf volume, you maximize your grazing effort and minimize your root loss at the same time. In the springtime, wait to graze your pastures until your grasses are 6-8” tall. Take stock off when grasses are grazed down to 3-4” tall, and do not graze again until your forage has regrown to 6-8” tall.

Practice High Intensity Grazing for SHORT DURATIONS

Practice high intensity grazing for short durations rather than low intensity grazing for long durations. Studies show that operations managed on an adaptive,   high-intensity grazing system have better soil aggregation, texture, and appearance; more stable pH levels; more earthworms; taller grasses; less bare ground; and better fungi-to-bacteria ratios. If managed properly, as stock density increases, grazing distribution improves, selectivity decreases, and the proportion of utilized forage that is actually ingested (grazing efficiency) increases.

 To better understand the difference between high intensity and low intensity grazing, consider the following question. Is it better to graze 25 animals on one acre for one day or 1 animal on one acre for 25 days? The correct answer is 25 animals on one acre for one day. The reason for this is that you will have better forage utilization and your stock will be forced to eat all plants (not just the favorable ones). Furthermore, they will not have the chance to come back and graze tasty plants over and over again. Think about it like a dinner plate. Your livestock (no matter the species) will eat all their dessert first and will only eat the rest of dinner if they are absolutely starving. On the other hand, if there are a lot of animals in a small area for a short period of time, they are forced to eat their meat and vegetables too and don’t have time to lick their ice cream bowls before they are kicked out. 

Be Smart about Salt and Water Placement

For larger pastures and on open range, use water and salt/mineral to distribute stock throughout the pasture. Livestock need to consume water and minerals on a daily basis. By moving your sources of water and mineral around the pasture, you will encourage better forage utilization. After all, your livestock will go to where the water and salt is.

CSU Extension Range Management Resources —GREAT INFO!

Tire tanks have the potential to be funded through  CPW’s Habitat Partnership Program (HPP). For more information, contact Middle Park HPP (CPW)  |  970-725-6200

Other Proper Range Management Principles

  • Ideally, a rotational grazing system has 5-8 separate paddocks that can be used on rotation throughout the season. This gives adequate time for recovery in each paddock before it is regrazed. 
  • If you lack permanent fences to create subdivided pastures, consider investing in Electric Fencing that can be moved wherever and whenever.
  • If you are limited by your pasture size and productivity, supplement your stock with hay by drylotting them most of the day and allowing them to graze on fresh forage for a shortened period each day.
  • If you know you have low productivity on your pastures and you do NOT have the ability to supplement with hay, consider reducing the number of animals you have or changing the type of livestock to a smaller, less consumptive species (like goats and sheep).
  • If you have irrigation water rights, irrigate your pasturelands using proper irrigation management techniques to accurately hydrate the grasses in your pastureland. See proper Irrigation Water Management section for more info.


Estimating the Carrying Capacity of Your Pasture

There is no standard reference for the quantity of available forage on pastures in the Intermountain West. Irrigated pastures range from 2,000-6,000 pounds per acre. Dryland (non-irrigated) pastures range from 300-2,000 pounds per acre in total dry matter. A production level of 1,000 pounds per dryland acre is fairly typical. Thus, an average dryland pasture has around 500 pounds of usable forage per acre (see the “Take Half, Leave Half” principle on previous page).

To put a value on YOUR pasture’s production, clip a small area (10’x10’) of forage that is representative of the pasture. Allow it to air dry for three or four days and then weigh it in pounds. For example, if you clip 100 square feet (10’x10’ square), multiply the air-dried weight (in pounds) by 435.6 to get pounds per acre.

Grazing animals need 2-3% of their body weight of AIR-DRIED forage daily. Thus, a 1,000 pound cow needs approximately 25 pounds of AIR-DRIED forage per day (750 pounds of dry forage per month). Therefore, a 1,000 pound cow needs 1.5-2 acres per month. Keep in mind that most beef cattle weigh more than 1,000 pounds!

Horses tend to waste more forage, so they typically need to be fed 3-4% of their body weight. Sheep and goats need 2-3% of their body weight; however, they utilize a higher percentage of brush and forbs species than cattle or horses. Llamas tend to have slightly more efficient digestive systems and require only 1.8-2% of their body weight of air-dried forage daily.

Use the “Calculations Worksheet” below for estimating the carrying capacity of your pastures.  The secomd table is used to determine AUMs/ac. For Middle Park, on Table 2, use values for Areas 4 or 5.

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References: 1, 10, 34, 36, 43, 44, 45, 48, 49, 76


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