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Guide to Pasture Condition Scoring

A well-managed pasture is one whose productivity (plant and animal) is optimized while doing no harm to soil, water, and air quality. The National Pasture Condition Scoring Guide and Score Sheet (PDF, 8MB) provides a systematic way to check how well a pasture is managed. If the pasture is located on the proper site and well managed, it will have a good to excellent overall pasture condition score. By rating key indicators and causative factors common to all pastures, pasture condition can be evaluated and the primary reasons for a low condition score identified.  A low pasture condition can lead to one or more pasture resource concerns such as poor plant growth, weedy species invasion, poor animal performance, visible soil loss, increased runoff, and impaired water quality.

Pasture condition scoring, to be most useful, should occur several times a year during key critical management periods throughout the grazing season. Scoring should be performed:

• At the start before placing livestock on pasture

• At peak forage supply periods

• At low forage supply periods

• As plant stress appears

• Near the end of the grazing season to help decide when to remove livestock

In addition, pastures used for year-round grazing benefit from pasture condition scoring:

• Going into the winter season

• Late in winter

• During thaws or wet periods

Pasture condition scoring can be useful in deciding when to move livestock or planning other management actions. It sorts out which improvements are most likely to enhance pasture condition or livestock performance. Pasture condition scoring involves the visual evaluation of 10 indicators, which rate pasture condition.  National Pasture Condition Scoring Guide and Score Sheet is used in the evaluation process.  The Score Sheet lists the 10 indicators with five descriptive conditions, ranging from lowest (1) to highest (5). This objectively ranks the extent of any problems and helps sort out the likely causes.  Each indicator is evaluated separately. They may be combined into an overall score for the pasture unit or left as an individual score and compared with the other nine indicators. Indicators receiving the lowest scores can be targeted for corrective action as warranted. The plant vigor indicator can be analyzed further by rating six factors that affect plant vigor . As one or more erosion indicators may exist on a site, they are split into four types: sheet and rill, gully, stream bank or shoreline, and wind.