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Strategic grazing Plans for healthier rangelands
South Dakota Ag Connection - 11/20/2023

Winter is a crucial time for ranchers to reflect and plan their grazing strategies. State Rangeland Management Specialist Emily Rohrer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), emphasizes three key concepts: allowing pastures to rest, maintaining grass stubble height, and varying seasonal pasture use to create an effective grazing plan.

Resting Pastures

Key to a robust grazing plan is incorporating a growing season rest period, recommended to be between 30 to 45 days. Dividing rangeland into separate pastures enables ranchers to rotate livestock, allowing each pasture adequate recovery time. This practice is crucial for sustaining optimal forage production and avoiding the detrimental effects of overgrazing, especially in drought years.

Maintaining Plant Health

Rohrer advocates for the "take half, leave half" concept, which balances grazing with the need to leave enough ground cover for nutrient cycling and biological processes. Overgrazing can hamper root growth, thereby affecting the plant's ability to absorb water and nutrients.

Maintaining plant and root health is also crucial for storing carbon in the soil, improving soil health, and reducing erosion.

Changing Season of Use

Rotating grazing seasons promotes biodiversity, preventing the overuse of the same plants year after year. A variation of at least two weeks in the grazing season is recommended, though more can be beneficial.

In addition to these practices, Rohrer also suggests using tools like the South Dakota Drought Tool and Grazing Tool, available at, for predicting forage production and creating a balanced grazing plan.

NRCS provides free resources and technical assistance for grazing plans, financial support for infrastructure improvements, and resources for best land management practices, while the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition offers cost-share opportunities, accessible at

Implementing these strategies not only enhances the health and diversity of rangelands but also contributes to the overall sustainability of the ranching industry.

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