Submitted to: American Forage and Grassland Conference Proceedings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/1/2007
Publication Date: 6/24/2007
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Goslee, S.C., Stout, R.C., Gonet, J.M. 2007. Applying the NRCS pasture condition score system at the whole-farm scale. Proceedings of the American Forage and Grassland Conference. June 24-27, 2007. State College, PA. CDROM.
Interpretive Summary: Not applicable.
Technical Abstract: The Pasture Condition Score (PCS) system was developed by the USDA-NRCS as a monitoring and management tool. 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. We applied the PCS to all pastures on 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) during 2004, 2005 and 2006. Pastures were evaluated in spring, summer, and fall of each year. Average PCS scores were relatively stable throughout the grazing seasons of 2004 and 2006. Summer drought reduced PCS scores for farms PA1, PA2, and MD1 in 2005. The indicators for legume content and forage diversity scored lowest on all farms in all years. Soil pH was often below 6.0 and may have limited legume persistence on these farms. The score for plant diversity ranged between 1 and 2, which according to the scoring criteria, indicated that only a few forage species dominated in pastures. On these farms, one or two cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, orchardgrass, and tall fescue dominated most pastures. 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 at the start of the grazing season, 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.