A Critical Decision for Grazing Systems: The Animal-to-Land Relationship

— Written By
en Español / em Português

El inglés es el idioma de control de esta página. En la medida en que haya algún conflicto entre la traducción al inglés y la traducción, el inglés prevalece.

Al hacer clic en el enlace de traducción se activa un servicio de traducción gratuito para convertir la página al español. Al igual que con cualquier traducción por Internet, la conversión no es sensible al contexto y puede que no traduzca el texto en su significado original. NC State Extension no garantiza la exactitud del texto traducido. Por favor, tenga en cuenta que algunas aplicaciones y/o servicios pueden no funcionar como se espera cuando se traducen.


Inglês é o idioma de controle desta página. Na medida que haja algum conflito entre o texto original em Inglês e a tradução, o Inglês prevalece.

Ao clicar no link de tradução, um serviço gratuito de tradução será ativado para converter a página para o Português. Como em qualquer tradução pela internet, a conversão não é sensivel ao contexto e pode não ocorrer a tradução para o significado orginal. O serviço de Extensão da Carolina do Norte (NC State Extension) não garante a exatidão do texto traduzido. Por favor, observe que algumas funções ou serviços podem não funcionar como esperado após a tradução.


English is the controlling language of this page. To the extent there is any conflict between the English text and the translation, English controls.

Clicking on the translation link activates a free translation service to convert the page to Spanish. As with any Internet translation, the conversion is not context-sensitive and may not translate the text to its original meaning. NC State Extension does not guarantee the accuracy of the translated text. Please note that some applications and/or services may not function as expected when translated.

Collapse ▲

Two critical elements of all grazing operations are: 1) the number of livestock and 2) the amount of pastureland. These two elements are often the most expensive assets of grazing systems. Defining an adequate balance between the number of animals and the amount of forage in the pasture is the most important grazing management decision a farmer can make. It is also one of the decisions for which the land-manager can have total control of.

The animal-to-land relationship over time is known as THE STOCKING RATE.

Stocking rate is often expressed as animal units per acre. The goal is to match the amount of forage produced with the amount of forage needed per animal without compromising either resource.

Too many animals in a field result in overgrazing. Simply put, there is not enough forage to feed the livestock. Over time, the pasture may become patchy and infested with weeds, resulting in a need to buy costly supplemental feed. Too few animals result in underutilized forages and therefore, potentially lost income. Over time, you will observe mature forages and uneven grazing in some spots of the pasture (Figure 1).

Stocking rate

Figure 1. Hypothetical examples of under- and over-stocked escenarios.

If forage productivity remained constant, then by knowing the pastureland productivity and the requirement of your livestock, you could estimate an appropriate stocking rate that would be constant year-round (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Constant (idealistic) pasture growth rate.

Forage productivity, however, is not constant, and it can be influenced by several factors, weather being one of the major ones. In North Carolina and the transition zone of the eastern USA, productivity and distribution of cool- and warm-season forages have a distinct pattern.

For example, tall fescue is most productive in spring and fall, while switchgrass and bermudagrass are most productive during the summer. Thus, if the number of animals remains constant during the year (like it is usually the case for most farmers), then, there will be periods of under- and over-grazing if only one type of forage species is used (Figure 3).


Figure 3. Figures showing periods of under- and over-grazing for cool- and warm-season based grazing systems at the same stocking rate.

Year-round grazing management is possible, but only with a combination of forages (i.e., cool- and warm-season) and management practices (i.e., stockpiling). To define an adequate stocking rate that will work for your specific goals and environment, first, start looking for the types of forages and the average pastureland productivity in your specific area.

No other grazing management practice, such as the use of electric fences, feeding minerals, soil sampling, fertilization, or weed management (although important) can overcome the failure of defining an adequate stocking rate.

For more information, visit us at NC State Extension – Forage & Grassland Program and contact your local County Extension agent.