Grazing management will impact drought recovery on rangeland

Jul 12, 2013
by WLJ

Even with the spring moisture, soil moisture reserves remain limited on range and pastureland of western South Dakota, said Roger Gates, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension rangeland management specialist.

“Spring moisture improved attitudes and potential pasture production in many areas. While the relief is welcome, soil moisture reserves remain limited and cool April and May temperatures suggest that total growing season production will remain below average,” Gates said, adding that the current Drought Monitor identifies continuing drought in most of western South Dakota.

However, he said if favorable moisture continues, recovery from the drought of 2012 may move forward in some areas. Gates said that range management decisions made this growing season will impact this recovery.

“Short hay supplies have forced many producers to turn out on pastures that were already short and growing slowly. Keeping track of the recovery process could provide valuable guidance about ongoing grazing management decisions,” he said.

A good way to keep track of the recovery process is to begin keeping production records on pastureland.

“Livestock producers generally appreciate the value of production records. Knowing which cows are most fertile, productive and therefore profitable, can inform decisions about culling and perhaps replacements for the breeding herd,” Gates said. “Production records for pastures can provide valuable guidance in planning and implementing grazing decisions.”

He said the challenge in evaluating pasture production status is that landscape change is generally very slow.

“It can be nearly imperceptible to even the most careful observer,” Gates said. “Knowing that grasslands are recovering or moving to a more productive condition requires a commitment to careful and repeated observation.”

Fortunately, Gates said most of those observations are easily made. The challenge is to record these observations in a way that changes to the landscape can be clearly identified over a longer period of time.

“Rangeland recovery requires rain, but good management is also necessary to optimize that recovery. Commit to continuing or beginning rangeland monitoring for your operation and find opportunities to acquire the tools to do it effectively,” said Gates. “Your livestock and your ranch business will benefit from improved and well informed decision making.”

Producers and land managers will have an excellent opportunity to learn about keeping pasture production records and using them to guide management decisions during the EKG Blink Monitoring Workshop July 30 and 31 at the Gary Howie Ranch near New Underwood. The workshop is co-hosted by SDSU Extension, Land EKG, and the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition.

See more information on the workshop in this week’s WLJ calendar of events on page 12. — WLJ