Submitted to: Proceedings of the National Conference on Grazing Lands
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: January 31, 2007
Publication Date: December 14, 2007
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Goslee, S.C., Gonet, J.M., Klement, K.D., Stout, R.C., Bryant, R.B. 2007. Pasture condition scoring at the whole-farm scale. Proceedings of the Third National Conference on Grazing Lands. December 10-13, 2006. St. Louis, MO. P. 442-446. Interpretive Summary: An interpretive summary is not required.
Technical Abstract: Producers need monitoring and assessment tools to aid in pasture management. The Pasture Condition Score (PCS) system was developed by the USDA-NRCS as a monitoring and management tool. Information is lacking, however, on how PCS results vary within and among grazing seasons and within and among farms. We applied the PCS on five farms across the northeast in 2004, 2005, and 2006. Two farms in Pennsylvania (PA1 and PA2, one dairy, one beef), two farms in New York (NY1 and NY2, dairies), and one farm in Maryland (MD1, organic dairy) were monitored. All pastures on each farm were evaluated according to the published PCS methodology in spring, summer, and fall of each year. Average PCS scores were relatively stable across spring, summer, and fall in 2004 and 2006. Average PCS scores in 2005, however, decreased dramatically for farms PA1, PA2, and MD1 because of summer drought. In 2006, scores decreased for PA1 in summer because of drought. Pastures used for maintaining heifers and dry cows or for wintering cows often had lower PCS scores than other pastures. Typically, these pastures were on less productive soils, and stocked for longer periods than other pastures. Our data indicate that assessing PCS once during the grazing is adequate if growing conditions are optimal all season. These conditions rarely occur, thus a strategy of assessing PCS at the start of the grazing season in spring, during stressful growing conditions (typically mid summer) and near the end of the season (to determine the extent of recovery) would be useful. Grouping pastures managed and used for different classes of cattle (e.g., heifer, dry cow, or holding pastures) and monitoring representative subsets of these pastures, may reduce the monitoring work load.