Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch

Grazing Systems: Season-long Continuous Grazing


Cattle grazing shortgrass rangeland in northern Colorado. Image: Jeff Vanuga, NRCS, 2002.

Compared to multiple-pasture grazing systems, the risk of management mistakes are minimized with only one decision on when to begin and one decision on when to end grazing each year under season-long continuous grazing.

Average daily rates of herbage removal per acre are relatively small because cattle have access to the entire acreage in contrast to one-fourth or less of the total acreage in most rotation systems.

Livestock have the greatest possible opportunity to select a high quality diet under continuous grazing. Light to moderate stocking rates can be used to optimize gains on replacement heifers or first-calf heifers.

While costs for fence and water are lowest for continuous grazing, more labor may be required to check widely dispersed cattle.

Uneven distribution of grazing at light to moderate stocking rates can provide adequate cover for wildlife in little used areas of the pasture.

Healing Disturbed Sites, Enhancing Plant Vigor

Blowouts or other disturbed areas likely will not heal regardless of lowered stocking rates or delayed entry dates. Consequently, risk of damage to vegetation under drought conditions can be very high in preferred areas.

On many ranches, individual pastures can be shifted from season-long continuous grazing to rotation grazing for several years to enhance recovery of disturbed sites. When it is not possible to shift from continuous to rotation grazing, periodically switching use of individual pastures from growing-season to dormant-season use (seasonal rotation) will enhance plant vigor.

The National Drought Mitigation Center | 3310 Holdrege Street | P.O. Box 830988 | Lincoln, NE 68583–0988
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