Range & Pasture Update
By Jerry Volesky, Range Scientist
The start of the growing season will be here soon and it is time to finish up grazing and forage plans for the upcoming year. Annual precipitation at GSL in 2019 was 28.82 inches which was about 9 inches above the long-term average (Table 1). Fall and this winter’s precipitation has also been above average which should result in very adequate soil moisture conditions for the start of the 2020 growing season.
Spring (March to May) temperature is the other key factor affecting pasture green up and can significantly influence turnout dates to summer pastures. In 2019, daily high temperatures during this spring period were about 12% cooler than the long-term average. At GSL, we have observed mid-May pasture growth as low as 50 lb/acre (cold spring) to as high as 500 lb/acre (warm spring). The spring 2020 forecast has equal chances of above or below normal temperatures and an increased probability of above normal precipitation.
Grazing plans should include projected cattle numbers (or stocking rates), turn out dates, and a pasture use sequence for multiple pasture rotations. For those livestock producers that use various types of rotational grazing strategies, it is important to review grazing records from the previous years when planning the rotation sequence for 2020. Consideration should be given to when the time or period of grazing occurred in the previous years and the amount of residual forage in that pasture from the previous year. Plans should adjust the schedule to avoid grazing the same pasture at the same time period in consecutive years.
As we would expect, there is a strong correlation between spring and early summer precipitation and pasture productivity. In a mixed cool- and warm-season grass rangeland, such as the Sandhills, there can be 70% of the season’s total production occurring by July 1. Rainfall in late July or August generally does not contribute to substantial growth for that season; but slows maturation of warm-season grasses and may benefit some fall growth of cool-season species.
While we like to be optimistic about spring and summer rains, now is also the time of year when ranchers should review or update their drought plans. A drought plan can have varying levels of detail and complexity and can be customized to fit the specific needs of your operation.