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Now is the time to start developing a grazing plan for 2022

Now is the time to start developing a grazing plan for 2022

grazing

Now is the time to be thinking about grazing strategies for the 2022 grazing season.

The summer of 2021 proved to be one for the history books. Record-setting heat early on in the growing season turned into an unseasonably hot and dry July, August, and September. The heat and lack of moisture led to water supply and grazing shortages. With the majority of cattle now pulled from range and receiving supplemental feed, Dr. Jeff Mosley, Rangeland Ecology and Management Professor at Montana State University, says now is the time to start thinking up grazing strategies for next summer.

“Now is the time to be thinking about what you might be able to do and what it would take to do it,” Mosely stated.

While the summer of 2021 was certainly hot and stressful on the range, local rangelands are incredibly strong and resilient, so therefore it is relatively safe to say no long-term damage has been done. However, the issue cannot be compounded by poor grazing decisions for the upcoming year. Mosely articulates that if the 2022 grazing season is not approached with some finesse, it could be possible to inflict long-term damage on the range.

With that being said, Mosely is really encouraging producers to focus in on their late spring/early summer pastures. May and June are the months when plants are the most fragile and therefore overgrazing can cause the most harm. It is a safe bet there will be very little, if any, carryover feed, so Mosely cautions producers to not turnout ahead of their grass. Be prepared for the very real possibility of a later turnout time in 2022.

If delaying turnout is really not an option for your operation, Mosely suggests shortening the grazing periods in pastures during the late spring/early summer months. Once the grass is done growing and begins to go dormant, usually about July, it becomes safer for pastures to be grazed longer.

Another key thing to keep in mind before turning out this spring is the fact pastures with very little old feed are a prime environment for grass tetany. Dry, old feed in a pastures helps to cut the richness of the lush, green spring grass. Consumption of excessive green grass early in the spring can lead to metabolic issues in livestock.

“If you don’t have old carryover grass, then you need to wait for those plants to get a little bit more structure and fiber in them,” Mosely explained.

Before developing a grazing plan for 2022, Mosely also suggests looking back at the 2021 grazing season and analyzing where you were in the grazing rotation in relation to the drought. Pastures that were grazed prior to the weather turning hot and dry are less likely to have recovered after being grazed and therefore will be more fragile in 2022 and even possibly into 2023.

“The good news is the pastures that got grazed last year after it turned hot and dry, even if they got grazed short, were grazed after the plants went dormant, so they were pretty tolerant to that use,” Mosely added.

Given this understanding, another suggestion Mosely has is having a grazing rotation opposite of the one employed in 2021. Pastures grazed in late spring/early summer last year may benefit from not being grazed until July or later this year.

He admits, every operation is unique and scenarios may even change from pasture to pasture. There is no perfect answer for how to address grazing during the 2022 season, but the bottom line is, next year’s grazing plan must be strategic so as to not compound rangeland stress. 

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