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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Lexington, Kentucky » Forage-animal Production Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #170060

Title: Stocking Decisions: They Make or Break You

item Aiken, Glen

Submitted to: Kentucky Forage and Grassland Council
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/20/2004
Publication Date: 10/26/2004
Citation: Aiken, G.E. 2004. Stocking Decisions: They Make or Break You. Kentucky Forage and Grassland Council. p 26-30.

Interpretive Summary: Stocking rates used to graze perennial grass pastures is the most critical decision made by cattlemen. The number of cattle on a pasture will determine economic output, but excessive grazing intensities must be avoided. Excessive grazing can eventually lead to costly pasture renovation, particularly if replanting is required. Adapted forage species and varieties should be planted and grazing intensities should compliment the growth potential and grazing tolerance of the pasture forage. Intensive grazing systems often set stocking rates to utilize forage during active growth periods, but stocking rates should be adjusted or hay and feed offered during periods of inactive pasture growth. Inputs of fertilizer and rotational stocking are recommended to maintain pasture growth and vigor. Early adjustments in stocking or hay and feed will be necessary to minimize damage to pastures during dry weather patterns. Cattlemen must understand how critical it is to use sound judgment in making stocking decisions for intensive grazing systems.

Technical Abstract: The decision on rate to stock perennial grass pastures is critical to the success of any cattle operation. An optimum stocking rate meets a targeted level of economic return while sustaining pasture growth and vigor. Excessive grazing will lead to pasture deterioration and costly pasture renovation. Grasses and legumes should be chosen for intensive grazing systems that are well adapted to the environment. Furthermore, cattlemen should know how their pasture forage tolerates and grows over a range of grazing intensities. A conservative approach is to set stocking rates to not over-graze pastures during periods when inactive growth is expected. Intensive grazing systems typically set high stocking rates to take advantage of periods of active pasture growth, but stocking rates will have to be adjusted or hay and feed provided when consumption becomes greater than pasture growth. Rotational stocking and inputs of fertilizer are needed with heavy grazing intensities to maintain productive pastures. Stocking decisions are extremely important in meeting production goals and maintaining productive pastures.