How should we approach grazing and pasture management in tough economy?

Pete Bauman
SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist

A while back somebody asked me why I haven’t written one of those articles that challenges people’s thinking in a while? I shrugged and said I really didn’t know that I hadn’t, but I’d do my best to come up with something. So, I pose the question in the headline as an opportunity to think critically about your pasture resources as we come into spring and summer. Spoiler alert, you won’t get all the answers here.

I understand this could be a very challenging question if we think too deeply, but at the core it is relatively simple to answer — treat your pastures well for long-term health, and they will add long term resilience to your operation. Treat them poorly for short-term gain, and you will likely get exactly what you asked for. If this sounds harsh, I apologize, but the message hasn’t changed in decades — we just sometimes need to be reminded of how important it is to care for our grasslands.

We know some very simple, general truths about managing grazing lands that both experience and science agree on. Remove the correct amount over time and space and the grassland thrives. Remove a little too much, and the roots and leaves suffer some, extending recovery time and decreasing the fitness of the plant. Remove way too much or return too early and risk extensive root growth stoppage, extended recovery periods, soil exposure/erosion, invasion of weeds, and ultimately poor production. In tough times the temptation is to take more off because of the perception that unused grass is wasted grass. Nothing is further from the truth. Rather, overgrazed grass wastes valuable sunlight, precipitation, and soil fertility!

So, how does one improve profitability beyond improving grazing practices? This is where science, experience, economics and management all mesh into improved business decisions, including controlling input expenses across the operation. It is well beyond me or the scope of this article to provide specific coaching, and if it sounds like I’m being vague, well, I am. It is intentional. I’m dangling a carrot and encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to learn more about these concepts from people who have gained knowledge through both experience and science. Please read on!

The South Dakota Grassland Coalition strives to provide practical, applicable, first-hand knowledge of how to leverage grasslands for profitability in balance with wildlife, water, and other landscape responsibilities. To that end, the Coalition offers its annual Bird Tour, Road Shows, Pasture Walks, Grassland Planner, reading materials, and the Grazing School in an effort to share knowledge and resources.

Recently the Coalition added staff capacity, and we are busy planning the return of the Grassland Management School, a new West River Grazing School, and enhanced learning opportunities for Grazing and Grassland School alumni, including invitations to the new Ranch Consulting program and alumni workshops.

But wait, there’s more! Some other concepts being considered are workshops focused on prescribed fire techniques, alternative calving options, and advanced education on controlling pasture input expenses.

If any of these opportunities capture your attention, we want to hear from you. Call Jan or Pete at 605-882-5140 or email and ask to be put on the invite list for any or all of these coming opportunities. Or, simply visit and join the Coalition to ensure you receive notices of all educational opportunities. It’ll be the best $30 you’ll ever spend to improve your grassland management options.

The harsh truth is that no one is making native sod anymore, and we lose more of this precious resource every day. It is incumbent upon the private landowner to ensure grasslands have a future. But to do that, we must retain healthy systems and profit.

Join us for any of these opportunities coming in 2019 and hear from those who have figured out how to make it work!