Submitted to: Proceedings of the National Conference on Grazing Lands
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/8/2003
Publication Date: 12/10/2003
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Goslee, S.C., Bryant, R.B., Skinner, R.H. 2003. Assessment and monitoring of grazing lands in the northeast united states. Proceedings of the National Conference on Grazing Lands. p. 76-83.
Technical Abstract: Productive grazing lands are critical to profitable forage-livestock production systems. Recent developments in grassland-based livestock production systems have created a need for new information on pasture and forage ecology and management. Dependable technologies are needed to monitor grazing lands, to restore damaged systems, and to identify management practices that increase or maintain economic return while protecting the productive potential of grazed ecosystems. Assessment and monitoring tools are needed to document, track, forecast, and convey the condition of grazing lands in the northeast. There is also a need for methods that integrate information from a local to regional or national scale. The Pasture Condition Score System has been developed by the NRCS for use as a monitoring and management tool on grazing lands. Ten key indicators (percent desirable plants, plant cover, plant diversity, plant residue, plant vigor, percent legume, uniformity of use, livestock concentration areas, soil compaction, and soil erosion) of grazing land status are evaluated along with causative factors explaining reasons for low condition scores. In this study, we used the tool as part of a long-term survey of plant species diversity and soils on grazing lands in the Northeast. Thirty farms were surveyed across the northeast during three years. On each farm, two to five pastures in different landscape positions were selected for survey. Each pasture was rated according to the Pasture Condition Score System. Pasture condition score ranged from 22 to 46 with an average of 33. The relatively low rating for legume content across all pastures suggests that producers should focus management on establishing and maintaining legumes. Pasture condition score was negatively related to plant species richness. Although variable, the relationship indicates that focusing strictly on increasing the number of species in a pasture without regard to the species composition may not be wise. In this survey, pastures with the highest species richness generally had a large number of weed species that were indicative of lax management. This preliminary study indicates that the Pasture Condition Score system may be useful for objectively estimating the relative management status of pastures. The system may also be useful for guiding pasture and grazing management.