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The most critical grazing management decision in a livestock enterprise is stocking rate. Proper stocking rate means matching the actual stocking rate to the carrying capacity of the land. Stocking rate is the amount of grazing pressure applied to pastures from all grazing animals, including cows and/or horses. The carrying capacity for a particular area is the amount of forage the land can produce, and this changes from year to year, based on precipitation and prior management. Therefore, the stocking rate may need to be adjusted each year to reflect carrying capacity. The stocking rate should not exceed a property’s carrying capacity, unless the gap can be economically bridged with imported forage, i.e., hay.
Grazing management will vary across the state, based on forage species utilized and climatic conditions, especially precipitation. Forage species adaptability can vary based on soil type and precipitation; therefore, selection should be based on location, along with desired use — livestock, wildlife, hay production, etc. — and management.
Warm-season perennial grasses are the basic forages for pastures and hay meadows in Texas. Whether that is sod-forming grasses, such as bermudagrass or bahiagrass, primarily utilized in Central and East Texas, or bunch grasses, such as native grass species that are primarily utilized in parts of Central, South, and West Texas. Introduced warm-season perennial grasses, such as bermudagrass and bahiagrass, produce dense sods consisting of rhizomes and stolons. These sod-forming species can tolerate close continuous grazing during good growing conditions, along with adequate soil nutrients.
If continuous stocking is used with a high stocking rate, plants are defoliated very frequently, depleting their leaf area, reserves, and growing points. These desirable pasture species can be eliminated over time using this type of grazing management, especially during drought conditions or when little to no fertilizer is applied. Under these conditions, bare soil is exposed, which may lead to more runoff and erosion of the site.
Native grass species are tall growing, have few leaves close to the ground, and growing points much higher above ground than many of the introduced forage species grown in Texas. Consequently, these grasses are more prone to overgrazing and should not be grazed closer than about 12 inches in height. If they are grazed below this height, regrowth will be slowed, root energy reserves will be lowered, weeds will be able to encroach, and stands will begin to thin. Longer recovery periods will be needed when native warm-season grasses are grazed too short. Thus, rotational stocking may be a beneficial management choice along with stocking rate.
Cost-share funding may be available to install practices that benefit your operation. See your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or Soil & Water Conservation District office for details. Your local conservation districts can help you develop a free conservation plan to maximize efficiency on your operation and address concerns.
Ward Ling, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a watershed coordinator with the Texas Water Resources Institute with Texas A&M AgriLife Research.
For more information
For more information, contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or Soil & Water Conservation District office at:
•Bexar County — 727 E Cesar E. Chavez Blvd, Ste. A-511, San Antonio; 210-472- 5527, ext. 3, or alamo@swcd. texas.gov
•Guadalupe County — 999 Fleming Drive, Seguin; 830-379- 0930, ext. 3, or comalguadalupe@ swcd.texas.gov
•Karnes County — 491 N. Sunset Strip St., Ste. 102, Kenedy; 830-583-3224, ext. 3, or email@example.com
•Wilson County — 108 Veterans Drive, Floresville; 830- 393-3555, ext. 3, or wilsoncounty@ swcd.texas.gov.