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Stocking Rates are the Key!

By Tim Miller, NRCS Range Management Specialist
Lawrence, Kansas

When I ask people what their stocking rates are for a year, I always hear “you can put one pair per eight acres.”  I soon realized this statement is not accurate—there is not an identical pasture—anywhere.  This might be the county average that has evolved to be the rule of thumb.

A pasture can consist of many different soil types.  Soils are important because it determines what forages will grow.  The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) uses a county soil survey to determine the type of soil on pastures.  Range sites can be categorized under Loamy Upland or Shallow Limy.  There’s a small chance that an entire pasture is one type of range site.  The larger the pasture, the greater chance it will have more than one range site.  Each one of these different range sites have different vegetation characteristics and forage production possibilities.

A range site like a Loamy Upland can produce up to 6,000 lb per acre with Big Bluestem being the dominant grass.  A Shallow Limy range site could produce 4,000 lb per acre with Sideoats Grama as the dominant grass.  It is important to determine the production level of your pasture. This will help match your potential forage productivity to your animal’s requirements.

Let’s go back to the statement of “8 acres per pair.”  Is it a 1,000 lb cow or is it a 1,200 lb cow?  These cows might be the same breed, but their size determines their forage needs.  Ask yourself—does a 1,000 lb cow eat as much as a 1,200 lb cow?

The last thing you need to consider is time.  How long are you grazing?  A pasture can only produce so much forage a year.  Do you take the available forage in 3 months or 6 months?  The shorter amount of time you graze a pasture, the more animals that will be allowed, compared to a longer time you graze.  Forage should be stockpiled for animals that graze longer periods.  Is that “pair” grazing 3, 6, or 12 months in the pasture?  It’s something to think about.

In order to determine a safe stocking rate, you should know the following: 

  1. Available forage
  2. Type and size of grazing animal
  3. Time the pasture is grazed

Please contact your NRCS office or conservation district office located at your local county 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) for assistance.  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.