Grazing management will impact drought recovery on rangeland

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS – Even with the spring moisture, soil moisture reserves remain limited on range and pastureland of western South Dakota said Roger Gates, SDSU Extension Rangeland Management Specialist.

“Spring moisture improved attitudes and potential pasture production in many areas. While the relief is welcome, soil moisture reserves remain limited and cool April and May temperatures suggest that total growing season production will remain below average,” Gates said, adding that the current Drought Monitor identifies continuing drought in most of western South Dakota.

However, he said if favorable moisture continues, recovery from the drought of 2012 may move forward in some areas. Gates said that range management decisions made this growing season will impact this recovery.

“Short hay supplies have forced many producers to turn out on pastures that were already short and growing slowly. Keeping track of the recovery process could provide valuable guidance about ongoing grazing management decisions,” he said.

A good way to keep track of the recovery process is to begin keeping production records on pastureland.

“Livestock producers generally appreciate the value of production records. Knowing which cows are most fertile, productive and therefore profitable, can inform decisions about culling and perhaps replacements for the breeding herd,” Gates said. “Production records for pastures can provide valuable guidance in planning and implementing grazing decisions.”

He said the challenge in evaluating pasture production status is that landscape change is generally very slow.

“It can be nearly imperceptible to even the most careful observer,” Gates said. “Knowing that grasslands are recovering or moving to a more productive condition requires a commitment to careful and repeated observation.”

Fortunately, Gates said most of those observations are easily made. The challenge is to record these observations in a way that changes to the landscape can be clearly identified over a longer period of time.

Pasture Management Workshop July 30 & 31

Producers and land managers will have an excellent opportunity to learn about keeping pasture production records and using them to guide management decisions July 30 & 31 during the EKG Blink Monitoring Workshop, July 30 and 31 at the Gary Howie Ranch near New Underwood. The workshop is co-hosted by SDSU Extension, Land EKG, and the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition.

The workshop will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. MDT each day. Participants will leave this field course with well-practiced abilities in choosing monitoring sites, transect layout mechanics, and EKG photo station procedures.

This outdoor class is designed for any rancher or conservation manger seeking a rapid, self-applied & repeatable monitoring program, right away. Participants will practice through land monitoring basics, soil surveys, grazing indexing, forage production methods, surface cover percent, and objective photo methods, but will spend the majority of time learning monitoring mechanics for EKG transect lines. Additional time will be spent on “situational monitoring” and site recording techniques including an introduction to EKG DataStore.

July 30 topics that will be covered include: redefining agriculture, tracking precipitation; grazing records, cages, and recovery pens, soil surveys; EKG grazing index, calculating forage production; beginning transect and photo point set-up; and a discussion on findings of SDSU’s Bad River Watershed study will conclude the day.

July 31 topics will include: transects,; record keeping; repeat photography; management direction; and use of EKG DataStore.

Registration for the workshop requires payment of $300 before July 15, after which the rate will be $400. Participation is limited to the first 35 registrants.

All Participants will receive: EKG Field Guide & Field Forms; EZ-EKG pocket field cards for quick land assessment; a 6 month trial subscription to EKG DataStore ($120 value) and a Monitoring kit with materials to set up monitoring sites on individual ranches valued at $400. Accommodations are available for “SDSU-Land EKG” in Rapid City at the Days Inn ($120) or America’s Best Value Inn ($89). There is also a campground in New Underwood.

Registration and further information is available by contacting Sandy Smart at, or 605-688-4017. To learn more about rangeland monitoring and Land EKG at their website:

“Rangeland recovery requires rain, but good management is also necessary to optimize that recovery. Commit to continuing or beginning rangeland monitoring for your operation and find opportunities to acquire the tools to do it effectively,” said Gates. “Your livestock and your ranch business will benefit from improved and well informed decision making.”

For more information visit and contact SDSU Rangeland Extension Specialist Roger Gates at the SDSU West River Ag Center at (605) 394-2236 or contact any SDSU Extension Field Specialist or Extension Specialist (