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Grazing

“Targeted grazing is the application of a specific kind of livestock at a determined season, duration and intensity to accomplish defined vegetation or landscape goals,” states the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) Targeted Grazing Handbook.

Describing targeted grazing as a new paradigm for livestock management, authors Karen Launchbaugh and John Walker discuss grazing as a practice to manage livestock as a service for vegetation control and creating desirable landscapes.

Launchbaugh is a rangeland specialist and chair of the rangeland ecology and management department at the University of Idaho, Moscow, and Walker is a professor and resident director at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in San Angelo, Texas.

Benefits

“This concept has been around for many decades and has taken many names, including prescribed grazing and managed herbivory. The major difference between good grazing management and targeted grazing is that targeted grazing refocuses outputs of grazing from livestock production to vegetation and livestock enhancement,” the authors explain.

Targeted grazing can be implemented to reduce the risk of wildfire, improve habitat and remove undesirable vegetation. Sheep and goats, for example, can be used to target noxious weeds such as leafy spurge, spotted knapweed and kudzu.

“Targeted grazing should be considered another tool in the kit for constructing desirable ecosystems. It can and should be used in combination with other techniques, such as burning, mechanical tree harvesting, hand-grubbing, chaining, applying herbicides, chiseling and seeding,” the report states.

Long-term results

Patience and commitment are key skills for targeted grazing managers, according to the authors, who explain that results may not appear for up to three years in a properly managed system.

“Once management objectives are maintained, managers must be prepared to modify their grazing from the system in use when the problem occurred or it will surely return,” they continued.

Effective programs will cause significant damage to the target plants, limit damage to desired vegetation and be integrated with other strategies to obtain management goals. Site-specific ecology will impact how plans should be implemented.

“A targeted grazing prescription specifies the time grazing should be applied for maximum impact,” the authors note. “Enticing livestock to eat and cause damage to specific target plants requires careful selection of the time of year to apply grazing.”

Target plant palatability depends on an animal’s inherited and developed plant preferences, and target plants are also incorporated into ecological systems that contain desirable plants as well.

“A clear understanding of the palatability and susceptibility of all plants in the community is needed to design a grazing strategy that will comprise the target plants and benefit the desirable plants,” the authors say.

Weed intensity

If weeds are at low levels in the landscape, grazing plans can be used to maintain those low levels and prevent the establishment of new weeds. In areas with higher weed levels, plans can be used to restore balance into the ecosystem. In areas where weeds have completely overtaken the landscape, grazing can be implemented to prepare the area for seeding by trampling seeds into the soil and controlling the establishment of weeds.

“There is a continuum of management intensities that can be used for targeted grazing, and it is important to match the management intensity with the economic constraints of the land manager and the livestock production goals of the grazer,” states the report.

Various plans can be developed with successful results, assuming livestock and landscape managers are patient and loyal to their goals.

“Making targeted grazing an active part of vegetation management programs will require greater dedication and commitment to grazing management techniques,” the authors say.

To learn more about how to create a targeted grazing management plan, refer to the “Targeted Grazing Handbook” found at sheepusa.org.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Animal disorders may result from toxic substances or mineral imbalances in forges and weeds consumed by livestock. As a result, reduced animal productivity, such as visible symptoms of ill health or even death of grazing animals, may occur.

Bloat is one the important animal disorders. 

This can cause a serious problem in cattle grazing pastures dominating by certain legumes. Cattle are more susceptible than other ruminant and non-ruminant animals. The cause for bloat is the formation of stable foam in the rumen that prevents eructation or belching of gases produced by the microbial fermentation of forages. As a consequence, gases lost by eructation are retained and the left side of the rumen then increases. The oxygen supply is then reduced, and it causes suffocation.

Because of the retained gases in the rumen and suffocation, affected animals swell rapidly, and in severe cases, death may occur within an hour. Susceptibility to bloat differs animal to animal. However where there is a chance of danger from bloat, the chronic bloaters should be removed from pastures.

Clovers, both white or ladino clover, and alfalfa are good examples of legumes that can cause bloat. 

However, there are some legumes that have less potential or do not cause bloat. Examples of some non-bloating legumes include birdsfoot trefoil, sainfoin, crownvetch, cicer milkvetch, sericea lespedeza, annual lespedeza, arrowleaf clover and berseem clover. These legumes contain high tannins in their plant cells, which act as protein precipitants to aid in breaking up the stable foam formed in the rumen. 

Bloat may also occur on lush pastures of ryegrass or small grains, especially in the spring. Beef cattle in feedlot-fed high grain diets with or without legume forage have less potential of occurring bloat.

It is not recommended to turn hungry cattle into a lush legume or winter annual grass pasture. Rather, producers would be better off to feed cattle with dry hay before allowing them to graze this type of pasture. Also, cattle should not be placed on lush forage wet with dew or that just received a frost. Limiting grazing and feeding with hay during early grazing can also reduce bloat incidence.

Grass-legume mixtures also reduce bloat potential. A mixture of 50 percent grass and 50 percent legume can greatly reduce the bloat hazard. Quick access of cattle to salt and water sources is helpful as well. Providing salt-molasses blocks containing surfactants, or detergent type compounds, can also reduce bloat potential, but these are relatively expensive.

It is highly recommended that cattle should be checked frequently during grazing, especially grazing with legume pastures. If a first sign of swelling of the left side of an animal is noticed, cattle need to be removed from the pastures quickly. Remember, bloat potential is greatest in spring when the plant growth is rapid compared to summer growth.

Anowar Islam is an assistant professor and the University of Wyoming Extension Forage Agroecologist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Producers are understandably sensitive about a drought this coming grazing season. Drought is likely, but clearly not a certainty. 

There is also little evidence to support one year’s drought having much impact on the following year’s productivity.

Long-range forecasts are not encouraging. However, assessing precipitation received March through May can determine any potential for and severity of drought.

For our range clients and those using BLM lands, March, April and May are precipitation months that determine forage yields. The later precipitation comes, the less effect it will have on cool-season vegetation forage production; thus, if March and April are warm and dry, plants would have started to mature and would be less responsive to May precipitation. 

Elevation and location play important roles. When temperatures rise, soil thaws, growth starts and precipitation will have an effect. Areas farther east in Wyoming may have ecotypes and species that respond better to later season precipitation. 

The additional moisture that comes after growth starts varies, has a proportionally larger effect than in winter, and is the major reason one is better able to predict the grazing season forage yields from spring precipitation. 

Farther west, winter precipitation is greater and thus more important to forage yields than east of the continental divide.

Many federal land managers and producers, looking at the prospect of drought, are considering delayed turnout, destocking or reduced numbers, or early removal from pastures or allotments. Delayed turnout will be the least-effective option. In spring, cattle use much greater and differing areas than later because of water availability, water needs, and different plant phenology. Delayed turnout would put the livestock on areas they would ordinarily use later anyway. Grazing before seed stalk elongation has no impact on plant productivity. Delayed turnout also provides producers little time for finding alternative forages or making marketing decisions after a drought is evident.

If the producer’s operation is dependent upon spring precipitation for the year’s forage supply, early destocking may be the best solution and consequently grazing fewer animals on federal grazing permits. Agencies and producers should plan to monitor residual forage or percent utilization so animals can be removed early enough to leave adequate soil protection. Establish residual forage or use targets and monitoring locations early in the season. Many areas have sufficient forage to supply animals if there is water available. Grazing value may be sufficient to warrant hauling water to unwatered areas. 

I recommend permittees be prepared to go with reduced numbers, plenty of water hauling and be ready for an early off, based on monitored forage use levels. There is little reason for late turnout because early-season grazing is on a largely different group of species and habitats than later in the season. 

Michael Smith is a University of Wyoming Extension range management specialist and a professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-2337 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

From the title of this article series, “Management Following Drought,” we might be accused of being optimists. Yes, 2013 could turn out to be another drought year, but the cards have only been partially dealt, and the most important part of the hand will be dealt from now until the first of June.

Members of UW Extension’s Range team will be writing articles over the next few weeks providing you research-based information and tools to aid in your decision making as we embark on the 2013 growing season following a historical drought in 2012.

Critical dates

What are the critical dates for decision making related to stocking rate on your ranch?

We want to challenge you with what we feel are three critical dates for decision making on the ranch. The relative importance of each will depend on the location of your ranch and if you use runoff water for irrigation.

April 1 is time to test the waters. What are the soil moisture conditions on your ranch? What is your carryover forage supply from the previous year? How is the snowpack looking in the watershed that you rely on? The relative importance of this last question will vary greatly from ranch to ranch. What is the long range forecast for precipitation?

May 1 certainly carries more weight than the April 1 date. How has the moisture situation played out in April? What is the likelihood of significant precipitation in the next 10 days? Snowpack? Depending on the answers to these questions now is the time to start responding with your stocking decisions. Perhaps plans are made to reduce some stock numbers or arrange for another place for them to go. The wheels driving activities should be turning!

By June 1, we are really nearing the end of the story for how your grass year will look. If the range hasn’t received meaningful moisture up until now it will almost certainly be a poor year. Generally moisture received after this date has less impact on cool season grasses because temperatures are often too high for efficient growth of these plants and they are probably approaching maturity.

Making a plan

Each of these three critical dates should be tied to stocking decisions on the ranch. This plan must be written down. Too often we let our optimism or emotions drive these critical decisions. Gather your ranch team around a table and write down a plan that is tied to the critical dates on your ranch. When the time comes to act, everyone will be on the same page and ready to respond.

One important aspect of being able to respond to the signals that these critical dates provide is the importance of having a management system that can be flexible in its stocking. Having only a cow-calf herd that requires all the grass your ranch provides in “average” years makes it extremely difficult to respond during the dry years. As a hedge against drought and markets, flexibility needs to be incorporated into the production system. 

An arguably useful rule is that perhaps 60 percent of the average stocking level should be in animals that would rarely be sold while the other 40 percent should be animals that can be sold in response to impending forage shortages or maintained when forage supplies are adequate. Retaining stocker cattle, buying stockers, retaining or buying cull cows, or taking pasture cattle can be useful additions in good forage conditions. There are a few other livestock system changes that can be useful in preparing for or adjusting to drought such as calving dates and early weaning.

We are all hoping for excellent moisture conditions as the spring story begins to unfold. We encourage you to focus your management time and energy on the things that you can control. Making a stocking decision plan that is written down and tied to the critical dates on your ranch is one of those things. 

Grazing after drought will be determined largely by the amount of precipitation that is received in the current year. 

As shown in figure one, the range will look pretty rough in a drought year, but the same range will rebound and actually can have surplus forage if precipitation the following year is normal or above, especially if the range had been stocked correctly. 

Forage levels are determined largely by the amount of spring precipitation that is received from March through June for the current year. It is too early to tell what kind of forage production we will have this year, but by the end of May, for most locations, we should be able to predict with some certainty the amount of forage that will be grown for the year. 

Most ranches can sustain one or two dry years in a row. This is especially true of operations that are grazing at a moderate level. Moderate level would mean taking half and leaving half of available forage in a normal year of precipitation. 

When there is drought for three or four years in a row, the situation can become problematic. Failure to care for the land during a long-term drought may create serious consequences on pasture and rangelands for decades to come. 

Overgrazing is severe, and frequent grazing during the active growth period of the plant is most harmful if done year after year. For our cool season grasses the active growth period is typically in May; for warm season grasses, it is in June. Higher elevations and the amount of snow cover will make these dates later. 

Changing where livestock graze during spring growth will help to reduce the effects of overgrazing. Not grazing an area every fourth year or only grazing it every fourth year after the seed head has matured helps in preventing overgrazing.

Indicators of past overgrazing are weeds have become more prevalent and more bare ground. Weeds are more competitive because they grow earlier in the growing season, and many of them have deeper tap roots that compete with the shallower-rooted forbs and grasses. Bare ground will increase as a result of grasses and forbs succumbing to repetitive overgrazing. Grasses and forbs may come back, depending on seed or rhizome availability. 

Brittle, low precipitation areas are more prone to degradation and have longer lasting negative effects than areas where there is more precipitation. It also takes more to return the low precipitation areas to their potential natural community.

Poisonous plants can become a bigger problem following drought because they may be the tallest plants, and there may not be much desirable forage for the livestock to eat. Thus, the amount of poisonous plants, as compared to grasses, during drought is higher and will have a more toxic effect on the livestock. Grass tetany is more likely following drought because of the lack of left over forage and the lush new forage, thus supplementing magnesium may be required.

Grazing livestock following drought has a lot to do with if there is any residual forage from the last year and the amount of forage grown in the current year. If there is little or no forage present, it is difficult to get any utilization out of the pasture. Selling, reducing the amount of livestock or finding somewhere else to graze will be a necessary strategy.