Making your pastures work harder takes a systems approach that includes grazing management, balanced fertility levels, adequate weed control and control of other pests that can hurt grass production. Manage all those things well, and you’ll increase grass production.

Here are three pasture management keys:

1. Assess pasture condition

Start by determining the level of decreaser grass species. These are typically more desirable, tall grasses that can decline under excessive grazing pressure, such as orchardgrass and tall fescue.

Decreaser species are good indicators of pasture condition. As they decline, invasive weeds and low-growing plants can become established and begin to thrive.

While some pasture managers prefer to keep low-growing plants, such as forbs and brush, available for wildlife feeding, they can’t be allowed to dominate a pasture. It’s all about maintaining the right balance between decreasers and increasers.


For optimal cattle production, having at least 75 percent decreaser plant species in the pasture is considered excellent condition, but aim to maintain at least 50 percent decreaser species. Below that level, increasers gain the advantage, and the pasture’s productivity is compromised.

2. Actively manage grazing

How you maintain good grazing conditions in your pasture has a lot to do with your grazing management plan and stocking rate.

When a pasture is in excellent grazing condition, it may take only three acres to feed one cow per month. When the same pasture is in poor condition, a cow may need 15 acres.

One recommendation is initiating a grazing management plan that includes several key steps:

  • Maintain appropriate stocking rate. Determine the right number of cattle to keep your pasture in good to excellent condition. If your pasture needs recovery time, consider leasing additional pasture land or reducing cattle numbers for the long-term good of your operation.
  • Monitor grazing. In various areas, erect 10-by-10-foot exclosures that protect grass from cows. Monitor the grazing around these areas at daily to weekly intervals depending on grazing intensity. When the grass outside an exclosure has been grazed down 50 percent, move cattle to another pasture to let grasses recover.
  • Record pasture condition over time. Drive a steel post into the ground, then take photos in all four directions away from the post, shooting a new set of photos each year. Compare the photos each year to see if you’re maintaining the grass system or seeing encroachment or establishment of increaser plants, brush or other undesirable plants.
  • Modify grazing patterns. If cows resist grazing some areas, encourage them to use those spots with mineral blocks or water tanks.

3. Use pasture improvement tools

Before applying crop nutrients, determine where you’ll get the best return on your investment. Conduct soil tests to identify needed nutrients.

Keep weeds and brush under control to avoid the need for restoration. When pasture conditions are greatly deteriorated, removing undesirable species and replacing them with desirable grass can take two to four years.

Spot herbicide applications can be an effective tool to stop brush species such as blackberry and multiflora rose from encroaching on pasture acres.

Consider other available control alternatives and determine how they might fit into your treatment program. Whether you use chemical, mechanical, biological or burning, be sure to allow enough time to evaluate treatment effects. You may not notice visible benefits until the following summer.

Controlling other pests, such as rodents and insects, is another important step in maintaining and improving pasture.  end mark

brad peterson

Brad Peterson
Range and Pasture Portfolio Manager
DuPont Crop Protection