Planning your 2013 pasture usage

Farm Forum

This article was written in collaboration with Roger Gates, SDSU Extension Rangeland Management Specialist.

It’s been a “touch and go” winter, with most of the region still reaming the effects of an extraordinary drought in 2012. The latest US Seasonal Drought Outlook from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center predicts that most of South Dakota will likely have improved drought conditions.

These predictions are music to most livestock owners’ ears in our state. However, even with improved moisture conditions in 2013, we still have to plan our pasture usage based on current forage and soil conditions. This means that we still need to use the effects of the 2012 Drought when planning for our stocking rates (SR) in 2013.

The across the board recommendation for all livestock producers coming out of a drought year is that you should decrease your stocking rates by 15%. This means that if you stocked a pasture previously at the rate of 100 hd /pasture, that same pasture should only hold 85 hd this year (during the same amount of time). On a smaller scale, if you can normally stock 5 horses on 50 acres, this year you should only put 4 horses on that same ground during the same time period.

General recommendations from the National Drought Mitigation Center are to use “trigger dates” to determine your individual stocking rate adjustments due to current precipitation levels. In the Northern Plains, where rangelands are dominated by cool-season plants, spring precipitation (April, May, June) is the best single predictor of vegetation production for the entire growing season. For example, in South Dakota, May 1 and June 1 are critical (trigger) dates, as most of our annual precipitation has fallen by then. The further south you go, the trigger dates occur earlier (April 1 and May 1).

Next, use historical average precipitation data based around the trigger dates mentioned above to determine if further cuts in stocking rates need to occur. By mid-April, climate prediction models for spring rainfall are correct more often than not. If predications suggest below normal rainfall for the following 3-months, further reductions in livestock demand should be made. For example, if by your first trigger date you have received the average precipitation for your area (to-date), then no further decreases in SR are necessary. However, if you have received less than 70% of your average precipitation to-date, then an additional reduction of 10% in SR is recommended, on top of the initial 15% reduction.

Drought Resources

For more information, view the recorded webinars from the Drought Mitigation Center at Nebraska.

To determine your historical average precipitation by month use the Historical Climate Data Tool on the High Plains Regional Climate Center website.