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Signs You Need to Adjust Your Stocking Rate

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Last week Troy Bishopp shared his worksheet for figuring out how many animals you can run on the pasture you have. Stocking rate isn’t an easy thing to figure, especially if you the pasture’s you’re grazing are new to you That’s why Troy reminded us that the results of the worksheet are an estimate.

So, how do you know if your estimate is good or not?

Brian Hays of the Noble Research Institute shares this great list of things to watch for:

Bare ground and/or brush and weed encroachment.
If you see any of these things increasing, it’s a sign that your stocking rate is too high or you’re not allowing adequate rest before returning to graze that pasture again.

The body condition score of your stock isn’t where it should be.
If the BCS of cattle drops below 5.0 to 5.5, stocking rates may need to be reduced to make sure animals are getting enough to eat.

Here’s an example of cows at different body condition scores. You can learn more about body condition scoring here.

Thanks to Crystalyx for this picture.


You’re feeding more hay than planned over the winter.
If you planned to feed hay for three months and actually have to feed for five instead, you are overstocked by at lest two months-worth of grazing, or 16.67%. Not only is this hard on your bottom line, its also hard on your forage. It’s future production will be reduced as well.

Figure your stocking rate every year

Hays says that stocking rates are the most important decision graziers makes. Graziers should visit their stocking rates every year and adjust them as needed based on rainfall and forage production, as well as rest and recovery periods for pastures. He says, “An intentional manager will graze intentionally, leaving adequate forage residuals at all times to protect the soil surface and improve the water cycle. Such a manager also actively manages the stocking rate by stocking conservatively and adjusting stocking levels according to current rainfall patterns.”

Ready to look at your stocking rates? Here’s the link to Troy’s worksheet.

This spring, beginning graziers will have a new, free resource to help them get started on the right foot. The National Grazing Lands Coalition, On Pasture and Yvette Gibson are working together to bring you an ebook and two online courses. Check out the course outline and ebook table of contents here, and then sign up to be notified when they’re available.

If you’d like help developing a grazing plan, here’s where to find it.

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

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