South Dakota Grazing School offers something for everyone

Farm Forum

I recently returned from helping instruct the SD Grassland Coalition’s annual Grazing School. Much of this school is taught by successful ranchers, and it’s a great reminder of our South Dakota’s heritage and culture of grassland management and the lifestyle choice that families continue to make while managing our grassland resources. If you are a producer who is managing grass, this is one of the best investments you can make to improve your understanding of managing your grass and livestock resources. I want to explain a bit about how this school works.

For the past 10 years, The Grassland Coalition, along with SDSU Extension, NRCS, and other partners has hosted this 2 1/2 day school in the Oacoma/Chamberlain area during the second week of September. Every year, the school draws students from across South Dakota and neighboring states. Attendance is usually capped at about 30 students in order to facilitate a true hands-on learning experience.

The school begins the morning of day 1 with instructors presenting general concepts of management and how to adjust grazing schemes to achieve particular goals and objectives. Students and instructors form teams that are given a grazing objective and assigned to apply what they’ve learned through managing a few head of cattle for the remainder of the school. This year my group’s goal was to simply utilize 50% of the grass. Other groups had assignments related to animal performance, pasture enhancement, wildlife goals, etc. The teams use their new skills to allocate a certain amount of pasture for their grazing objective, temporary fences are put up, and the cattle are turned out into the teams ‘pastures’ for a day.

After the initial turnout of cattle, students and instructors move on to plant identification. During this portion, students work with instructors to learn more about the value of certain forage and non-forage plants. Instructors identify the value of certain species in a grazing program while reinforcing the benefits of maintaining or creating diverse plant communities for livestock and system health.

Day 2 of the school generally covers topics such as livestock nutrition, soil health, pasture monitoring, and individual ranch planning. Student teams re-visit their assigned pasture project and have the opportunity to make adjustments and receive interactive feedback from the group. Day 2 reinforces the principal that grazing is not simply a matter of turning cattle out and ‘hoping’. Rather, students are shown they can achieve specific goals and objectives with the application of the appropriate management tools. Day 2 wraps up with an interactive session for students to receive ranch

specific feedback from instructors that they can apply on the home ranch.

Day 3 consists of a final visit to the team project areas, additional instruction on determining pasture production and grazing allocation, and reinforcement of vegetation ID skills. Students are issued a certificate of completion. More than just a piece of paper, a certificate from this school can be a valuable asset in helping a student leverage their understanding of grazing principals, especially when working with state and federal agencies on grazing programs or competing for leases where a landlord may want some assurance that the producer will ‘take care’ of the pasture resources.

Throughout the school students have ample time to compare notes with and learn from each other. If you are interested in learning more about the school or in getting your name on the list for next year, please contact me at the SDSU Watertown Regional Center at 605-882-5140 or visit for information.

Upcoming Events

· Drought Management on the Ranch Workshops. One day courses to be held in Hot Springs, Lemmon, Gettysburg, and Winner from October 8-11. Visit for more information or call Laura Edwards at SDSU Extension’s Aberdeen Regional Center at 605-626-2874.