Having a grazing plan for your ranch can be an extremely useful tool to help you maximize your profits from a pasture based operation.  However, developing these plans can be difficult and frustrating to the point that they do not get finished.

The first thing you need to do before you even begin to develop a plan is to set some goals and objectives that you are trying to accomplish with your grazing system.  This could be as simple as you want to increase carrying capacity, or improve wildlife habitat, or improve range health.  I would suggest writing down this goal so that you know what you are trying to accomplish and then, with any decision that need to be made, you can ask if that decision will help you get to that goal. 

Once you have your goals in place, then you need to do an inventory of your ranch resources.  This includes several different aspects of your ranch including: a resource inventory, a forage inventory, and an animal inventory.  A resource inventory is all of the items that you feel will have an influence on the decisions that you are going to make in regards to the grazing plan.  Some examples are location (and condition) of existing fences, location (and quality) of existing water sources, and other areas that pose a resource concern such as riparian areas, erosion areas, areas with weed problems, etc.  It would also be beneficial to identify other current management concerns such as areas that are currently over utilized or under-utilized.   If you get in touch with your local NRCS office, they can help you develop an aerial map of your ranch that can map out this resource inventory. 

After completing the resource inventory, you need to develop a forage inventory which is basically what the forage production is in each of your pastures.  There are two possible ways to accomplish this task.  You can use soils information and ecological site descriptions.  This is data that the NRCS has gathered and compiled for all areas of the state.  The problem with using this information is there is a chance that it could be slightly different for your operation.  So, the other option that you can do is collect the data for yourself.  There are different ways of doing this.  You can use a clip ring and collecting a few samples to determine production or you can use a grazing stick and collect some grass heights and determine it that way.  Collecting the data yourself does take some time and it is something that you need to continue doing throughout the growing season to get a good idea of production. 

Next you will need to do an animal inventory.  This will give you the amount of forage production that you will be harvesting from your pastures.  The easiest way to do this is to convert all animals to animal unit equivalents.  Animal unit is simply a way to compare all kinds and classes of animals to the monthly forage requirement for a 1000 lb cow with a 6 month calf, which is 1.00 animal unit.  One 1000 lb cow with 6 month calf consumes approximately 912 lbs dry weight of forage in one month.  There are tables available for determining animal unit equivalents for other classes of livestock. 

Source: Kyle Schell