Sean Kelly, extension range management specialist at South Dakota State University Extension, believes that livestock grazing distribution is something we should all work on because it maximizes how much forage your livestock eat, improves range health and, ultimately, adds up to more profit per acre.
“Poor grazing distribution throughout a pasture is like feed waste at the feed bunk in winter,” Kelly says. “Dollars are left on the table when areas of a pasture are not utilized and grazed properly.” When we calculate stocking rates for the current grazing year, we might assume that cattle will graze evenly over the entire pasture. But as Kelly says, and as we’ve all seen over the years, “Cows are lazy and will develop their own convenience areas within a pasture.”
“Convenience areas” are a lot like convenience stores. A cow can get everything she wants in one small space, but just like when we shop at a 7-11, the cost is higher. For our pastures the price of convenience is over-grazing and potential damage to rangelands. It also means that other areas are under-used, and that’s when we leave money on the table. But we can change this by simply reducing cow convenience and changing our placement of salt, mineral and oiler-rubs in relationship to water.
“Overgrazed convenience areas in a pasture may generally trend towards poor range condition and under-grazed, under-utilized areas may trend toward excellent range condition,” Kelly says. “Striving for improved grazing livestock distribution that will maintain the entire pasture in the fair to good range condition may be advantageous to the financial efficiency of the grazing enterprise.”
Improving Livestock Distribution
“Basically, I encourage producers to implement range management practices which improve the entire range conditions- keeping the entire pasture in that sweet spot that is fair to good range condition – instead of one area being overgrazed and poor and another area being undergrazed and excellent,” Kelly says.
Consider these ideas for improving livestock distribution at your place:
• Water is always a draw, so you can add new water developments, especially in parts of the pasture cattle often neglect.
• Move salt, minerals and oiler-rubs to different locations in the pasture. Temporary salt and mineral locations can get cattle moving to new locations and then you can move them to a new place once you see cattle have used an area to meet your goals. Kelly notes that, “For many years, it was common practice to place salt and minerals near the water because we thought that cattle needed water after consuming salt and minerals. But we’ve since proven that’s not true.” Kelly suggests placing these things at least a quarter mile from the water source if you’re working at a South Dakota landscape scale. You’ll adjust this distance to meet the scale you’re working with.
• Use fencing to move cattle to and hold them on different areas of your pastures.
Where to Begin?
Kelly suggests producers begin by implementing the least expensive and simplest practices, such as rotating salt and minerals. “I encourage producers to take it slow and use caution before implementing methods to improve grazing distribution,” Kelly says. “It is easy to reach the point of diminishing returns by implementing too many practices at one time.”
“If water sources are limited, then proceed with water improvements slowly and carefully to improve grazing distribution,” he continues. There are government programs are available to assist with installation costs of water and fence improvements so check with your local NRCS office for assistance.