Understanding Your Forage Needs
In order to make management decisions that will support your overall objectives, the first step is to identify what resources are currently available to help you reach those objectives, and what problems may need to be addressed. Completing a resource inventory that includes the species present and the available forage production will aid in selecting alternatives that will help you achieve your management goals.
Identifying the forage species and understanding the suitability of those species to your grazing animals will provide the information necessary to make sound decisions about grazing management. For example, the best way to extend your grazing season is to provide for both cool season and warm season forages. If the resource inventory indicates that some of both occur, but possibly not in sufficient quantities, a management system may be designed to enhance the element that is most needed to meet your goals.
Selecting species that are adapted to the area’s climate and soils and that match your management needs based on goals and objectives is critical to long-term success. Consider factors that may affect production such as insects, soil types, and moisture requirements. Also consider non-grazing objectives such as habitat, escape cover, and food for wildlife. Building diversity into your resources by including native plants and selecting varying lifecycles also builds resiliency. Diversity allows for natural protection against disease and pests, provides for the needs of other beneficial insect and wildlife species, can extend the length of the grazing season, and can help mitigate drought, frost, and other climatic variables.
Preparing the Ground
Planting cropland back to grassland takes some planning regarding previous herbicide use, soil fertility, and seed bed preparation. Adequate soil surface firmness and residue cover can protect the site against erosion and provide water storage for seedling growth. If land has been cropped for many years, it might be a good idea to plant cover crops for a few years to build carbon and cycle nutrients from lower in the soil profile to the rooting horizon. Seeding into previous crops like soybeans can provide a good seedbed.
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.