Healthy Grasslands Series: Measuring Grassland Production (23 of 31) Back »

Assessing pasture forage production is a key step in planning harvest strategies and can also inform the manager on the status of wildlife habitat or other grassland values. Online resources, such as the free USDA Web Soil Survey, allow landowners to input the perimeters of a pasture or ranch while the program outputs production estimates based on soils and typical vegetation for the area.

Measuring Tools

Many producers prefer locally accurate information on their grassland production. One of the most reliable systems for measuring grassland production on the farm or ranch is to clip and weigh the vegetation. Tools such as clipping ‘rings’, charts, and tables, assist in estimating per-acre production. While important to establishment of base data, annual clipping can be time and labor intensive, thus most producers fail to follow through on long-term clipping to establish production estimates.

As an alternative, grassland managers have developed simplified tools that allow rapid estimation of forage production in grasslands without the need to continuously clip and weigh vegetation. One of these tools is the common ‘grazing stick’.

Grazing Sticks

While all grazing sticks are based on the same general principles, their use can be modified to fit local conditions. The grazing stick utilizes plant leaf height measurements in inches, estimating how many pounds of dry plant material are available per acre. The grazing stick includes simple math to determine herd size, stocking rates, and available grazing days. Producers interested in learning more about determining grassland production should work with a mentor or grazing professional to receive coaching and guidance.

180 Day Grazing Period
No. of Pastures Grazing Efficiency Grazing Days Rest Days
1 25% 180 0
2 30% 90 90
3 30% 60 120
4 35% 45 135
6 35% 30 150
8 35% 23 157
12 40% 15 165
16 40% 11 169
Estimated Air-dry Weight in pounds per inch* Minimum
Stand Density**
Plant Community Normal Excellent Height
Cool Season & Legume 150 - 250 250 - 350 4"
Cool Season Introduced 100 - 200 200 - 250 4"
Cool Season Native 150 - 200 200 - 250 4"
Native Mixed Cool & Warm 100 - 200 200 - 300 4" to 6"
Warm Season Native 100 -250 250 - 350 6" to 8"
*Measure the average height in inches of the vegetative forage in the plant community, not seed head height.
** Stand density refers to the relative closeness of desirable plants. An excellent stand density will have a cover greater than 85% and be vigorous.

The Healthy Grasslands article series is provided by the South Dakota Grassland Coalition in partnership with SDSU Extension. Contributing editors: Sandy Smart (SDSU Extension Rangeland Management Specialist), Pete Bauman (SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist), and Joshua Lefers (South Dakota Grassland Coalition Board Member, 2015–2017). © South Dakota Grassland Coalition 2017. View the full document for more information.

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