The amount of precipitation we've received so far this year tells us a lot about what might happen going into another grazing season, according to University of Nebraska Extension range and forage systems specialist, Jerry Volesky. Speaking to a group of ranchers at the Ranching for Profit workshop in Bassett recently, Volesky said that if it stays dry, ranchers should pay attention to key dates on the grazing schedule, and make their decisions about reducing their stocking rate on their pastures based on precipitation received by those dates.
Dry conditions going into early April do not bode well for the upcoming season. Most ranches in central and western Nebraska have a combination of cool and warm season grasses. By May 1, when cool season grasses begin rapid growth, we'll know what kind of moisture we have in the soil profile, Volesky said. Most warm season grasses will kick in more rapid growth by June 1. By June 20, Sandhills pastures have normally already produced 50% of the growth they will experience during the season. "The other consideration is the temperature, especially if it warms up early," Volesky said. Precipitation in May, June and July is critical, he said.
Herbage production studies at the UNL Barta Brothers Ranch near Rose since 1999 proved that May, June and July in 2012 were the driest since the study began. However, because of good precipitation in previous years, last season's production was only second-worst, with 2002 production coming in as the low point.
In planning for the upcoming grazing season, Volesky suggested that pasture grazed from late May into mid-July last year should receive deferment priority this season. "You have to balance forage supply with demand," he said.
Supplies might include native range, meadows, seeded pastures, hay and crop residue. On the demand side, producers will have cows, yearlings, breeding heifers and bulls that need to be fed adequately. Volesky suggested looking back to 2012 grazing records to understand the time of grazing, last year's stocking rate and the amount of residual herbage left in pastures last fall.
Rotational grazing will work best this upcoming season to protect grass resources. Volesky said that pastures should probably only be grazed once from turnout to killing frost. "The greatest number of cow-days per acre will be gained when pastures are not grazed until plants have completed most of the growth for the year," he said.If you'd like to learn more about grazing timing this season, contact Volesky at 308-696-6710 or email [email protected].