Resting the Range, It Pays!
Resting the Range, It Pays!
by Roger Tacha, Resource Conservationist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
There are 10 factors to be considered in properly using and managing both the grassland resource and the livestock that graze it:
- Acres of range
- Number of pastures or paddocks
- Kind of forage
- Condition of forage
- Kind and size of grazing animals
- Number of animals
- Availability of water
- Location of water
- Rest-rotation or continuous grazing
- Wildlife considerations
After the first eight factors are addressed and calculated, the issue of rest-rotation versus continuous grazing can be evaluated.
In the shortgrass and midgrass areas of western Kansas, a REST-ROTATION system has usually been found to be superior. Our rangelands here naturally “evolved” with this sort of grazing pattern. Migrating bison grazed the land in great numbers but for relatively short times. The grazing was probably rather severe, too. But then they moved on and the area was probably not grazed for a long time, maybe a year or more. The grass had ample time to recover and grow as strong, or even stronger than before. Then the cycle repeated when another herd appeared to graze again.
Our short and mid grasses are attuned to this kind of use, compared to continuous, season-long grazing. They can tolerate the “heavy” grazing (multiple bites on an individual plant within just a few days). Then when the grazers leave, root reserves are used to replenish the above-ground parts of the plant. With even MORE REST, the root reserves get restored too.
Contrarily, continual grazing that keeps individual plants “mowed” down all season long results in very little plant re-growth and constant pressure on root systems. Over time, the WHOLE plant (above and below ground) simply shrinks and gets weaker.
After having read all this, a logical question might be: “But what if the stocking rate is very light?” To answer, those grazers will select certain plants or certain species and continually “bite” the new regrowth of those plants ALL season long. Those chosen plants will be depleted while other forageable plants will go under-utilized or even un-used.
A rotational system will solve a lot of this. A higher number of animals in a smaller grazing area for a relatively short time will force the animals to be more competitive. A more even and effective grazing harvest occurs. It is more economical, and the grass reacts well to this pattern.
The higher the number of pastures or paddocks, the higher the percent rest for EACH FIELD during the grazing season. As long as livestock are grazing in a certain pasture and they are NOT present in the other paddocks—REST IS HAPPENING. The length of time individual pastures are grazed depends on a combination of size and forage values, compared to all the other pastures in the rotation system.
To be more efficient, most grazing operations do not necessarily need more acres. More likely they need MORE PASTURES. Cross-fencing existing fields with just electric fences can usually accomplish this. And quite often, they can be designed to share existing water facilities between pastures.
THIS STUFF WILL WORK!
Finally, the last of the factors mentioned was WILDLIFE considerations, mainly nesting prairie birds. Different bird species, from meadowlarks to prairie-chickens, need a variety of grass habitats. A rest-rotation system with several pastures will provide a wide range of bird habitats—all the way from heavily grazed, to moderate vegetation in rest-recovery stages, to not-yet grazed at all—all in the same season.
For more information about grazing or natural resources conservation, please contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office or conservation district office. The office is located at your local U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the internet at offices.usda.gov). More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov. Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.
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