It is difficult to objectively evaluate what we see every day—and that includes pasture conditions.
We have all heard the old saying “can’t see the forest for the trees”. Important decisions such as livestock feed inventory, forage stand replanting, fertility needs, weed control, etc., all hinge on what we see in the pasture. That is why an objective evaluation of a pasture is a valuable tool. Dennis Cosgrove, Dan Undersander of the University of Wisconsin-Extension and James Cropper with USDA/NRCS have developed a tool known as the, “Guide to Pasture Condition Scoring.” The scorecard can help grazers identify and prioritize management practices that may improve pasture productivity. A well-managed pasture is both productive and sustainable. The score sheet is helpful in prioritizing corrective treatment needs. Some farm managers want more productive pastures and make reactive changes but never really change overall pasture management. The greatest factor influencing pasture productivity is the pasture manager. What we see at any moment in time is influenced by our management system.
Scoring a pasture at the start of the grazing season, at peak forage growth, during forage shortages, during periods of forage stress and at the end of the grazing season can be useful for determining corrective actions. The pasture condition score will help managers identify practices which will most likely improve livestock and pasture performance.
Pasture scoring uses 10 visual evaluation indicators and each is ranked numerically from poor to excellent. The indicators can then be combined into an overall score. Indicators receiving the lowest scores may be considered for corrective management. It is then up to the manager to weigh the identified factors needing attention and determine what can be reasonably done, while providing the biggest bang for the buck. It is easy to become overwhelmed when managing a grazing system and we don’t always see the low hanging fruit right in front of our eyes. Don’t try to make all of the changes at one time but prioritize forage and livestock management changes by setting short and long term goals. Visualize what you expect to see by visiting with accomplished pasture managers. It is important to remember pasture condition varies throughout the year in response to management and climate. Scoring pastures yearly and during the same periods each year can help to identify trends. We are only done improving our pasture management system when we cease to realize opportunities.
It is one thing to be told by a forage or livestock expert you should consider this or that but there is nothing more powerful than realizing yourself that a change is needed. That’s where your pasture score can help.
The score sheet is available at: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/nrcs142p2_007667.pdf