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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Setting and Adjusting Stocking Rates to Meet Production Goals

Author
item Aiken, Glen

Submitted to: Proceedings of the Heart of America Grazing Conference
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: December 11, 2006
Publication Date: January 24, 2007
Citation: Aiken, G.E. 2007. Setting and Adjusting Stocking Rates to Meet Production Goals. Proceedings of the Heart of America Grazing Conference. Pgs 12-15.

Interpretive Summary: Decision on stocking rates to graze pastures and adjustments made on stocking rates as pasture growth patterns change will be critical in livestock producers meeting their production goals. Decisions on setting and adjusting stocking rates should be based on animal weight per unit land area, rather than animal numbers because of the close relationship between forage intake and body weight. Highest animal performance will be achieved with light stocking rates, but a critical stocking rate can be reached beyond which forage availability limits animal performance. Reduced performance of individual animals may be compensated by higher total weight gain per unit land area, but there is a second critical stocking rate whereby total weight gain per unit land area decreases. Livestock producers must set stocking rates that meet production goals that either maximizes weight gain per animal or per unit land area. Furthermore, management must be used to allow producers with the capability to adjust stocking rates as seasonal pasture growth patterns change. Carefully made decisions on the stocking rates used to graze pastures will improve the profit potential of all forage-based livestock production.

Technical Abstract: Stocking rate is the most valuable management tool that livestock producers have in meeting and sustaining production goals. The paper will discuss the effects of stocking rate on forage availability and animal performance, and the available options in balancing stocking rates with changes in pasture growth patterns during the season. Stocking rate should be expressed as body weight per acre or animal units (animal unit = 1000 lb cow), and not animals per acre. Basing stocking rate on body weights, rather than animal numbers, can be useful in balancing forage intake with forage availability. Highest attainable weight gain will be achieved over a range of light stocking rates, but weight gains will decrease as stocking rate are increased beyond a critical rate that results in forage intake that are higher than forage growth. Grazing intensity from a given stocking rate will change with seasonal pasture growth patterns. Livestock producers have a choice of either stocking pastures intensively to utilize spring growth or stock pastures conservatively to not overgraze during the summer months.

Last Modified: 12/20/2014
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