This is an important time of year for almost all pasture managers. If mistakes are made, they come back to haunt us for the rest of the growing season and perhaps beyond that.

Rangelands in the Great Plains are especially vulnerable to mismanagement during May. Brian Hays and Jeff Goodwin, pasture and range consultants for the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Okla., note that almost 50% of the year’s forage production will be produced by the end of the May in the Southern Plains. As such, it’s imperative that native pastures not be overutilized.

“As you evaluate your native pastures, you should see some of last year’s dead, residual growth still standing in the green new growth,” explain the consultants in a recent issue of Noble’s News and Views newsletter. “If you do, you are likely stocked properly and are doing a good job with your grazing management. If you do not, now is a good time to re-evaluate your stocking rate and/or make changes to your grazing plan,” they add.

Track rainfall

The rangeland specialists are strong proponents of monitoring rainfall throughout the year to evaluate how far above or below normal precipitation is trending. This can offer a glimpse of what future forage production might be and allow for proactive adjustments to stocking rates.

This year, south-central Oklahoma is over 6 inches above normal for rainfall for October through March. This translates to the potential for more forage and, at least in the short run, no need to reduce stocking rates.

Keep desirable species

The consultants also note that it is important to monitor native pasture growth and utilization as well. This can be done with a grazing stick or with grazing exclusion areas. Base cattle movement on the height of the most desirable grazing species. Monitor and measure representative areas of the native pasture and move cattle when the height of the desired species reaches its target stubble residual.

“Rest and recovery after a grazing event are essential to maintaining a native plant community,” the consultants emphasize.

Prepare to stockpile

Stockpiling, or allowing growth to accumulate during the growing season, is an effective means to extend the grazing season, but it does require some preplanning.

“Native pastures that are going to be stockpiled should be lightly grazed in May and June and then rested throughout the remainder of the growing season to achieve the maximum forage production for winter,” Hays and Goodwin note.

Invasive weeds

Getting an early handle on invasive brush species can make control much more effective. For species such as honey mesquite, the date of green up or bud break is important to time a herbicide application, which needs to occur about 45 days after bud break. It’s at this point that carbohydrates are being translocated to the roots.

“Recognizing these considerations early in the growing season can pay positive dividends to the producer who is focused on intentional management,” Hays and Goodwin conclude. “Ultimately, the ability to read the land by knowing what to look for can aid producers in making decisions and capitalize on opportunities.”