Fall Grazing Differs by Plains Location

Drought Affects Outlook for Fall Grazing on the Plains

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Cattle graze in North Dakota earlier this summer. Fall grazing may occur in the Northern Plains, thanks to the return of moisture. (DTN Photo by Chris Clayton)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Fall grazing conditions across the High Plains differ considerably, depending on the location.

Northern Plains grazers should be careful not to overgraze this fall after rains finally fell in the last couple of months. Those in the Central Plains will need to be careful baling corn residue, while Southern Plains producers might be able to graze wheat acres, only beginning later thanks to dry conditions.


Drought stressed pastures and rangelands in some regions of the Northern Plains have greened up and are even lush after rains fell in late August and September. Now is the time to evaluate grazing systems to see if the grass could be utilized this fall, or if grazing now could affect 2022 forage production, according to a recent North Dakota State University Extension (NDSU) news release: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/…

The short answer is it depends on what grass species is going to be grazed, according to Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist. If the pasture/rangeland is made up of brome grass or Kentucky bluegrass, fall grazing can happen safely. There should not be any long-term negative effects with grazing in the fall, as long as the grass is not overgrazed, she said.

However, rangeland with cool-season native grass species should be grazed carefully. This grass, which is dominant in rangeland in North Dakota, is establishing tillers right now.

"Tillers will be used by these plants to initiate growth next spring," Meehan said in the release. "If this tiller is lost due to drought or grazing, the plant will need to develop a new tiller in the spring, delaying grass growth and development."

If grazing is occurring this fall on rangeland, producers should be careful to monitor utilization and not to overgraze to protect tiller development. Grasses should not be grazed below the second node or the areas between the first and second leaf.

NDSU recommends livestock producers avoid grazing pastures and rangelands that saw heavy use this past grazing season to let the grass recover, according to NSDU Extension rangeland specialist Kevin Sedivec. The stress of the drought combined with overgrazing can lead to a loss of plant species diversity and biomass, soil erosion and weed growth.

"(Overgrazing after a drought) ultimately decreases forage production and animal performance," Sedivec said.

Looking ahead to spring, Sedivec said pastures and rangelands will need special care to fully recover from the drought.

Grazers should be prepared for a delay in grass growth and development. Grazing too soon will reduce leaf area and the plants' ability to capture sunlight, he said. In addition, moving livestock onto grass too early next spring could thin existing stands, lower total forage production, and increase disease, insect and weed infestations.

The damage from grazing too soon after a drought could have an effect on the grass for several years, Sedivec said.

"Now is the time to evaluate your grazing system to determine how you can increase flexibility and resilience of your grazing resources and ranch," he said.


In the Central Plains, plenty of cornfields allow for grazing or baling of crop residues. These options offer another income source for both livestock and grain producers, Todd Whitney, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension educator wrote in UNL's Pasture and Forage Minute in September.

See the article here: https://cropwatch.unl.edu/…

To proceed with either grazing or baling cornstalks would depend on harvesting equipment available, cashflow needs, feed inventory and projected forage needs and supply, he said.

Whitney said UNL Extension encourages producers to consider several economic and forage harvest plans before making a decision on grazing or baling. Because corn leaves may blow out of the field, it is suggested to graze or bale right after harvest.

UNL research shows that for every 40 bushels per acre (bpa) of grain production, corn residue production will average about one ton per acre. Two hundred bpa corn should yield five tons of corn residue per acre.

"Ideally, about two tons of residue should remain in the field after baling corn stalks to reduce erosion," Whitney said. "Also, avoid taking residue from fields with slopes higher than 5%, or leave at least half the residue cover to reduce soil erosion along with wind and water."

UNL Extension also recommends in a corn and soybean rotation, harvesting corn stalks every four years to maintain soil health while still providing forage income.

UNL Extension has the Crop Residue Exchange. This is a free online tool to link cattle producers to other producers with available grazing resources. The exchange allows producers in Nebraska and surrounding states to list fields of crop residues, pasture and other forage resources they have available for grazing and for cattle producers to connect with them. Crop producers who have previously listed resources are encouraged to log in and update their listings for the 2021-2022 fall and winter grazing season.

Livestock producers looking for forage grazing can search the database for grazing available within a radius for the location of interest. Contact information is only viewable to those logged into the exchange website.

Click on the link to log in and view: https://cropresidueexchange.unl.edu/…


Recent rains after the driest September on record have given Southern Plains producers relying on wheat pastures the prospect of some wheat grazing, according to Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University (OSU) Extension beef nutrition specialist. He wrote "Prospects of Wheat Pasture This Fall" as part of the OSU Extension Cow-Calf Corner emailed newsletter.

Click the link to read the newsletter: http://beefextension.okstate.edu/…

Beck wrote that with the recent moisture, wheat grazing could probably occur about a month later than usual and with not as much fall forage production. The region is already 40 to 50 days delayed in planting the wheat because of dry conditions, which will most likely limit forage production for grazing, he said.

"Wheat emerged before the latest rain has the potential to reach 1,000 lbs. of forage dry matter per acre by Thanksgiving, if the region has normal average temperatures for the rest of the month of October and through November," Beck said.

Wheat seeded before the recent moisture in the Southern Plains will probably be delayed or have less forage production by a week or 10 days, depending on when it comes up and starts actively growing.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

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Russ Quinn