How To Set Grazing Stocking Rates

Before you determine the livestock stocking rate on a piece of land, you have to know that parcel’s carrying capacity, which is how much forage is produced on it. 

Miranda Meehan is a livestock environmental stewardship specialist at North Dakota State University. She says there are a few methods for determining the carrying capacity. One is using regional stocking rate estimates developed by the NRCS in their ecological site descriptions.  

"Which estimates how much a certain type of land or ecological site can carry based off of it being in good condition. Somebody will give us a map of their property, and we’ll make an estimate based off of that," says Meehan. "The most accurate way though, is to base that calculation off of the actual forage production of that unit of land."

Meehan says when they calculate the stocking rate, they refer to the average production if data is available, otherwise they base it off the current year’s production and make adjustments depending on time of year for the growth curve.  It will also consider the conditions of that growing season.

To keep your grazing resources healthy, it’s important that the stocking rate does not exceed the carrying capacity. It’s also known as “over-grazing.”

"It’s detrimental to the grasses, it changes our composition of the species. Also, if you’re over-grazing for long periods of time it’s going to reduce productivity of that piece of land," she says. "It’ll change in species composition, so there’s going to be less of those desirable forage species because they’re going to be repeatedly used by our livestock because they like them, and they’re going to start disappearing and be replaced by species of lower forage quality."

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