Rangeland Grazing Management Guidelines

September 04, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Cattle graze in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.  
Photo courtesy of Rachel Frost.

Written by Rachel Frost and Jeff Mosley, Montana State University

Livestock grazing is one of the most widespread and important uses of rangelands. Renewable plant resources provide forage for ruminant livestock like cattle, sheep, and goats; and the ruminant animals subsequently provide food and fiber for people. This method of harvesting solar energy requires relatively low inputs of petroleum products for agricultural production. Rangeland livestock, however, must be managed properly to ensure the long-term sustainability of the soil-plant-animal resource base.

There are a set of basic grazing management principles and a set of grazing management guidelines that should be considered.

Grazing Management Principles

The art and science of grazing management involve manipulating the grazing animal, the forage plant, and the soil complex to obtain specific ecological and economic objectives. The successful grazing manager must thoroughly understand how plants grow and reproduce if he wants to understand how grazing animals affect plants through defoliation, hoof action, and other aspects of the grazing process. In addition, managers must understand the grazing animal, specifically its nutritional needs at critical points of the production cycle and its behavioral characteristics. Then managers can begin to consider the following:

  • When should grazing occur? (timing)
  • How often should defoliation occur? (frequency)
  • How much forage should be removed, or how much residual plant material should remain after grazing? (intensity)
  • How many and what type of livestock should be grazed? (stocking rate and type of livestock)

How plants respond to grazing is determined by the timing, intensity, and frequency of grazing as well as the physiological and morphological characteristics of the plants and how these characteristics affect plant growth before and after grazing events.

Grazing Management Guidelines for Sustainable Rangeland

Guidelines have been developed through research and experience. They include timing of grazing, frequency of grazing, intensity of grazing, type of livestock, number of animals, animal distribution, grazing selectivity, and grazing systems.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.