Livestock Production on Rangelands
Understanding the current range condition is important for producers to consider in order to have a good grazing management plan. The current range condition is an evaluation of the current status of rangeland vegetation. Knowing how productive rangeland is and how much forage is available for livestock to consume is important to avoid overgrazing and undergrazing.
Proper grazing management is the key element of a successful livestock production. The most important aspect of grazing management is to use the proper stocking rate. A proper stocking rate is not only economically important, but it benefits the ecosystem and grass reserves as well.
Overgrazing can result in a decrease of palatable desirable forage and an increase in invasive grasses and noxious weeds. On the other hand, continuously understocking the range results in wasted forage and less than maximum net return per acre to the operation.
Creating a plan
Stocking rate is not the only thing producers should consider when creating a management plan. When creating a management plan, producers should also consider main management goals, such as livestock production, wildlife habitat, etc.
Additionally, it is important to understand animal nutritional requirements and the available forage in current pastures. A 1,000 pound lactating cow in the first 90 days post-calving with a peak milk production of 20 pounds per day requires a crude protein (CP) of 10.2 percent and a total digestible nutrients (TDN) of 59 percent.
A growing 600 pound steer or heifer with an average daily gain (ADG) of 1.5 pounds per day needs 10.6 percent CP and 64 percent TDN. However, taking the same steer or heifer and deciding to have an ADG of two pounds per day instead of 1.5 pounds per day, the nutritional requirements increase to 11.9 percent CP and 69 percent TDN.
Having an understanding of the main forage in pastures is important, as it can be used as a management tool to ensure nutritional requirements of cattle are being met. Having an understanding on how to identify invasive grasses and weeds allows producers to identify how big of a problem they are to the operation and how they should be managed.
Additionally, having an understanding of what species are desirable to the operation based on management goals and being able to identify those species allows producers to see if grazing is being effective or changes need to be made.
Furthermore, knowing what grass species are contributing to most of forage production and their growth form can allow producers to better plan their grazing management plan.
Understanding forage quality
Knowing the growth form of a species can help producers understand its forage quality. Forage quality is important to create a cost-efficient nutritional plan and to ensure producers are meeting the nutritional requirements of livestock.
Knowing the critical growth periods of cool and warm-season grasses allows producers to understand when they have the highest and lowest nutritive value. New grass growth with a higher leaf to stem ratio has a higher forage nutritive value than mature grasses which have higher stem to leaf ration.
Therefore, as the growing season progresses and plant maturity increases, forage quality decreases as CP concentration and digestibility decreases.
Utilizing forage availability and management goals to create a proper stocking rate for the operation is the key element of successful livestock production. Additionally, having an understanding of what species are found in pastures allows producers to create a sustainable management plan.
This information allows producers to create a plan controlling invasive grasses and weeds and/or a plan matching forage nutritive value based on its growing stage with livestock nutritional requirements. Ensuring livestock nutritional requirements are being met is important as it improves livestock production by improving ADG, breeding percent, calving percent, etc.
For more information on nutritional requirements of beef cattle, visit extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/print-publications/e/nutrient-requirements-of-beef-cattle-e-974.pdf.
Alex Orozco-Lopez is a University of Wyoming Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension educator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.