With forage supplies likely to be tight again this year, pasture managers will want to get out their grazing sticks and plate meters, suggests Tom Griggs, West Virginia University (WVU) forage and grassland agronomist.

These tools can calculate the forage mass on pastures today and provide an estimate on how those pastures may yield in the future.

“The reason a lot of us want to measure and know forage mass in a pasture at any particular time is so that we can get a sense of how to balance pasture growth across an entire growing season. And how to balance the amount of forage that grows with the amount of forage we want our grazing animals to consume,” Griggs says.

New graziers, producers renting unfamiliar pasture ground or those new to dealing with drought-stricken paddocks could especially benefit, he says. Recording forage mass month by month over several years allows producers to form their own forage forecasts or budgets that help match cattle stocking density to available forage.

Grazing sticks measure forage height, can guide when and when not to graze a paddock, convert stand density to dry matter per acre-inch and offer formulas for pasture allocation. For details, download the University of Kentucky publication, Using a Grazing Stick for Pasture Management.

A falling plate meter is an acrylic plate that lowers to the pasture canopy after a ruler is placed through the plate’s center hole and pushed into the pasture canopy. Forage height is measured to the top of the plate. For more on this meter, download the WVU publication, A Falling Plate Meter For Estimating Pasture Forage Mass.

“The rising plate meter is on a walking stick,” Griggs says. “You push the stick into the canopy and the plate ‘floats’ on top,” automatically taking readings while a person walks a pasture. The agronomist figures he can take 50 readings that are automatically averaged by the commercially made meter. For more information, check out a University of Georgia publication, Decision Support Tools for the 3 M's of Grazing Management.

The reference method of clipping, drying and weighing pasture samples from quadrats (sampling frames) is time-consuming. Griggs estimates it can take an hour to measure and record five or six samples, “which may not be likely to represent an entire pasture as well as many more samples estimated with a rapid, non-destructive approach like pasture sticks or plate meters.”

For more information, see Resources For Measuring Your Forage Mass.

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