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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Sanderson, Matt
item Holden, Lisa
item Rayburn, Ed
item Soder, Kathy
item Bryan, Bill

Submitted to: Northeast Agricultural Resources Engineering Service
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/20/2003
Publication Date: 2/1/2007
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Holden, L., Rayburn, E., Soder, K.J., Bryan, B. 2007. Assessing forage mass and forage budgeting. In: E.B. Rayburn, editor, Forage utilization for pasture-based livestock production. Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service. Ithaca, NY. P. 20-42.

Interpretive Summary: Just as budgeting expenses for the month helps producers be more effective with financial planning, forage budgeting on pastures can help the forage- livestock producer improve feeding management. Knowledge-based decisions about incorporating pasture into the overall feeding program decrease feed costs through improved utilization of forage on pasture and ultimately improved profitability. The consequences of inaccurate forage budgeting include lower animal production, body condition score, and breeding success. Budgeting forage in a reactive manner means that the producer has forgone potential animal production. Another aspect of measuring forage supply is that the activity involved in making the measurements will benefit a producer's ability to manage. There are several tools available for estimating forage yield on pasture, but each tool requires some calibration for accurate measurements. Inaccurate measurements of forage yield on pasture can result in economic losses. The value of measuring and tracking pasture availability is that it allows one to budget forage supplies and make allocation decisions for grazing, haying, and supplemental feeding so that the pasture resource can be used to its fullest. Although the "eye of the master fattens the flock", many tools and techniques are available to sharpen the acuity of the master's eye.

Technical Abstract: Accurate assessment of forage mass in pastures is key to budgeting forage in grazing systems. We discussed the tools available for measuring forage mass in pastures and how to apply these measurements to projecting, monitoring, and budgeting forage supply. Understanding the nutrient needs of different species and classes is the first step in inventorying animal needs for the grazing and feeding system. By determining how many of a certain class of animal will graze an area and what supplements are available, the producer makes management decisions that will provide the animals with the greatest nutrient needs the best available forage. Matching animal nutrient needs and forage availability and quality is necessary to maximize the return on investment. This requires a working knowledge of the nutritional requirements of the animals, forage quality, and forage yield. The standard method used for measuring forage yield on pasture is the clipped, dried sample. This direct measurement requires a great deal of effort and expense to collect enough samples to accurately represent a pasture. Calibrated indirect methods often are used for estimating forage yield on pastures because they are less labor intensive. The idea is to relate the indirect measure (e.g., forage height, visual estimate) to a direct measure (usually a hand-clipped sample) of forage. Once calibrated, the indirect measure can be obtained quickly and easily. Forage yield may be estimated visually, but these estimates often are inaccurate. Research shows that achieving greater accuracy (to within 10% of actual yield) in estimating forage yields will improve forage budgeting and increase net returns for the producer. Other pasture attributes that may be monitored include legume content and standing dead material.

Last Modified: 05/28/2017
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