NRCS promotes prescribed grazing and improved forage management by providing technical assistance to private landowners.
Pasture Land Use
Grazing lands are an important part of farms across Minnesota. Given the importance of grazing lands to the overall production of these farms, it makes good sense to implement grazing management practices that will maintain and improve pasture resources. Grazing management can be applied with any type of pastured livestock, such as beef and dairy cattle, sheep, goats, and bison.
Grazing management comes down to managing the forage plants found in pastures to optimize their growth. These plants need moisture, sunlight, and nutrients, but how well those plants can use those resources directly depends on how grazing is managed in those pastures. To fully utilize those resources, consider the following three elements of grazing management: (1) leave forage behind when moving animals to new pastures to avoid over-grazing, (2) provide adequate rest for plant recovery, and (3) limit the amount of time animals spend in a paddock to minimize re-grazing of individual plants. That sounds simple, right? Well…it does take some planning to determine how grazing management can fit into your operation and landscape. NRCS staff can assist you with developing grazing plans that meet your operational and production goals for your pastures and livestock. Whether your goals involve increasing forage production, improving water access for your livestock, or extending the grazing season through stockpiling forage or grazing cover crops on cropland, NRCS can assist you with meeting these goals along with many other goals you may have.
NRCS Practices to Help Meet Your Goals
Fence is an important practice that helps facilitate grazing management and can be used to increase the number of paddocks, convert cropland into pasture, integrate livestock onto cropland to graze cover crops and crop residues, as well as other situations.
Water is the most important nutrient to sustain life, so providing good quality water to livestock is a key factor for their growth and production. It is important to provide water in every paddock to ensure that grazing management can be properly applied and so that your livestock production goals are also met. Watering systems may include wells, pipeline, tanks, and other practices needed to ensure an adequate water supply is available for the livestock.
Pasture seeding is used to convert cropland into pasture or improve existing pasture.
- Many operations consider converting cropland into pasture to increase the amount of grazing for their herd, especially when short on pasture. Oftentimes, cropland that is converted into pasture is marginal, containing coarse textured soils, steep slopes, wetlands, and/or wet soils that may not be profitable in row crops, but could be much more productive in pasture.
- Pasture seeding can also be used to renovate existing pastures, which may include broadcasting clovers into an existing forage stand or starting over by planting more desirable forage species.
NRCS assists with many practices related to grazing with the goal of helping producers improve their grazing lands management.
- Potential benefits include increasing forage production, increasing grazing days for the herd, improving water infiltration, and improving soil health.
- Many environmental benefits may also be possible, which include:
- Reducing soil erosion.
- Reducing run-off of water, which ensures soil, nutrients, and water stay within the pasture where forage plants can use them.
- Diversify wildlife habitat. Providing rest and not over-grazing can provide more cover and habitat for wildlife.
- Increasing carbon sequestration. Improving overall plant growth and production above and belowground can increase carbon in the soil.
- Improving water quality by managing grazing and providing rest adjacent to wetlands, streams, rivers, and other surface waters.
Numerous other practices may be available to achieve your goals. Here are a few others:
- Access Control
- Brush Management
- Cover Crops
- Forage Harvest Management
- Portable Windbreaks
- Prescribed Burning
- Many other practices are also available. Additional information regarding specific NRCS practices can be found on the Minnesota Field Office Technical Guide: https://efotg.sc.egov.usda.gov/#/
Several resources are available to get you started with improving your pastures. Refer to the following publications for more information:
- Basic Concepts of Management Intensive Grazing
- Cropland Grazing Exchange
- Grazing Systems Planning Guide
- Understanding Grass Growth
- Livestock Water Requirements
- Water Effects on Livestock Performance
- 5 Keys to Successful Grass Planting
- Improving Pasture by Frost Seeding
- Annual Cover Crop Options for Grazing and Haying in the Northern Plains
- Grazing Cover Crops How To Guide
- Extending Grazing and Reducing Stored Feed Needs
- The Basics and Benefits of Bale Grazing
Do you want to see how producers in Minnesota are improving their grazing management? Check out these great videos!
Conversations with MN Soil Health Innovators: Conservation Grazing and Partnerships (Part 2 of 8)
Bison Management at Belwin Conservancy
Using 60-Inch Row Space in No-Till Corn Inter-seeded with Cover Crops and Rotational Grazing
Rotational Grazing of 60-Inch No-Till Corn Inter-seeded with Cover Crops Means Positive Economics