Producers in North Dakota have a tool to help them measure and monitor pasture use. North Dakota State University Extension, with support from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, developed a grazing monitoring stick from a modified yardstick.  Complete with information related to grazing management, the grazing stick measures forage utilization.

“Forage utilization is a measure of the percent of the plant that has been consumed or destroyed by grazing animals,” says Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist. “Utilization should be monitored throughout the grazing period to ensure you achieve proper utilization, maintain plant health and prevent overuse of key species.”

According to Fara Brummer, area extension livestock systems specialist at NDSU’s Central Grasslands Research Extension Center, total plant weight — not height — determines proper utilization. Generally, proper utilization is accomplished when 50% of the total plant weight of key species has been utilized, she says.

When determining utilization, take measurements during the grazing period and within three days of livestock being removed, to make sure you meet target grazing goals. For accuracy, take measurements from grazed and ungrazed plants of the same species on the same date, in order to gather data from plants at the same stage of growth.

Four steps for using the measuring stick are:

1.      Measure the height of key forage species. A minimum of 30 measurements should be taken for each key species.

2.      Calculate the plant height removed by dividing the grazed height of the plant by the ungrazed height. Subtract that amount from one.

3.      Multiply that amount by 100 to determine the percent of height removed.

4.      Estimate the percent of weight removed by using a height-to-weight conversion chart.

“Monitoring utilization of range and pasturelands using the GMS provides a way to assess how much forage livestock have consumed, helping determine when livestock should be removed from a pasture,” says Kevin Sedivec, NDSU Extension rangeland management specialist. “The GMS can assist North Dakota livestock producers and other land managers in monitoring forage for long-term grass production.”

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