Pasture Management

 Knowledge Nuggets | Fact Sheets | Research Papers

Knowledge Nuggets

  • Pasture managers view themselves as grass farmers and the livestock as a means of marketing the forage. The goal is to produce good-quality forage for as much of the year as possible and then choose livestock that best market it.
  • To maintain a productive plant community requires skillful management. Understanding animal: plant interactions and their influences on overall pasture production is key.
  • In setting production goals, consider the economic return per acre rather than production per animal. Compare production per acre or per dollar invested into the pasture.
  • Most cow-calf operations have lower nutritional needs than do stocker enterprises. If high-quality forage can be consistently produced, a stocker enterprise may be a good economic option. Different classes of cattle, horses, sheep, or goats might be more suitable for the feed source and management.
  • Time controlled grazing has become popular and improves profits. Pastures are divided into paddocks where the land is grazed for short periods of time and the livestock is removed to ensure the plants have adequate time to recover before being grazed again. Because this requires more knowledge of forage plants and pasture-animal interactions, controlled grazing is often referred to as management-intensive grazing (MIG).
  • Grazed pastures need less fertilizer than those that are hayed. Animals use very few nutrients from the plants they eat as most minerals are returned in animal manure and become part of a natural cycling of nutrients. When manure is evenly distributed throughout the paddocks and earthworms, dung beetles, and soil bacteria are active, nutrients will be recycled quickly.
  • Soil tests and forage analysis are useful to monitor mineral nutrients in the soil and whether nutrients are actually being used by the plant. Results include fertilizer recommendations based on field history and planned use. Recommendations may not be accurate for pasture because they may not account for the recycling of nutrients by the grazing animals.
  • Producers are best able to evaluate fertilization needs based on their observations of productivity and nutrient cycling in their paddocks and using the soil test to monitor changes in soil chemistry and nutrient levels.
  • Legumes in the mixture increase soil fertility, improve overall feed value and extend the grazing season. Bacteria that live in nodules on the legume roots capture atmospheric nitrogen and after the nodules separate from the roots or the plant roots die, this nitrogen becomes available to nearby plants.
  • In order for legumes to persist in a pasture, manage the grass-legume mix for the legume. Grass must be kept short enough so that legumes are not shaded out. Fertilize for the needs of the legumes to avoid excessive competition.
  • Many organisms live in a healthy soil ecosystem. Root systems cooperate with underground animals in a complex, highly organized system very similar to the one aboveground. The soil biological community includes large populations of bacteria, fungi, nematodes, mites, and microscopic animals.
  • With continuous grazing, animals graze the most palatable plant species frequently. Root reserves are eventually exhausted and the plants die. In a controlled grazing system, animals only have access to small parts of the pasture at one time. Once grazed, plants are allowed sufficient time to regrow and to restore their root reserves. Over time the plant community becomes more diverse.
  • A sustainable pasture plan should be based on animals harvesting forage for themselves as much as possible. When pastures produce more than livestock can use, forage banking is one strategy to extend grazing into the dormant season.
  • In a controlled grazing system, livestock assist in managing weeds. Because cattle have access to the paddock for a short period, their grazing is less selective. Weeds provide good nutrition while they are in young, tender growth stages, which cattle would reject when mature.
  • Grazing different kinds of livestock improves weed control. Sheep and goats will complement grass-eating cattle by consuming broad leaves, blossoms, and seeds, while goats prefer brushy vegetation high in cellulose.
Fact Sheets

Budgeting Feed Requirements of Beef Cattle on Pasture - available in PDF format

Control of Pocket Gophers and Ground Squirrels

Do you have enough forage? - available in PDF format

Effect of Date of First Use on Forage Yields of Russian Wildrye- available in PDF format

Efficient Pasture Systems - available in PDF format

Estimating Available Pasture Forage - available in PDF format

Grass Growth and Response to Grazing - available in PDF format

How Pasture Plants Grow - available in PDF format

Impact of Alfalfa and Fertilizer on Pasture: Pasture Carrying Capacity - available in PDF format

Irrigated Pastures in Western Canada

Managing Pasture as a Crop: A guide to Good Grazing

Pasture Ecology: Managing Things That We Cannot See

Pasture Management

Pastures: Sustainable Management - available in PDF format

Small Pasture Management Guide for Utah - available in PDF format only

Research Papers

Animal Unit Equivalent for Beef Cattle Based on Metabolic Weight - available in PDF format

Cattle herbage utilization patterns under high-density rotational grazing in the Aspen Parkland - available in PDF format

Complexity and composition of pasture swards affect plant productivity and soil organisms - available in PDF format

Energy to Protein Ratio of Grass–Legume Binary Mixtures under Frequent Clipping - available in PDF format

Forage Persistance Under Extremes of Cold and Drought - available in PDF format

Factors Influencing Pasture Productivity in Atlantic Canada - available in PDF format

Forage energy to protein ratio of several legume–grasscomplex mixtures - available in PDF format

Grassland Ecosystem Monitoring: A Non quantitative Procedure for Assessing Rangeland Performance Status

Grazing Before Grass is Ready

Impacts of grazing systems on soil compaction and pasture production in Alberta - available in PDF format

Intensively managed pasture in the Great Lakes Region: a future-oriented review - available in PDF format

Management strategies to improve cow-calf productivity on meadow bromegrass pastures- available in PDF format only

Sward complexity and grass species composition affect the performance of grass-white clover pasture mixtures - available in PDF format

Response of forage yield and yield components to planting date and silage/pasture management in spring seeded winter cereal/spring oat cropping systems - available in PDF format only

Seasonal herbage dynamics in Aspen Parkland landscapes in central Alberta - available in PDF format only
  For more information about the content of this document, contact Grant Lastiwka.
This document is maintained by Linda Hunt.
This information published to the web on December 22, 2005.
Last Reviewed/Revised on February 16, 2018.

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