NDSU Extension Service, Published May 15 2013
Long winter slows availability of range grass for grazingThe long, cool, snowy winter of 2012-13 severely slowed grass growth on
rangeland this spring, which is delaying its availability for grazing.
"Grass growth and production in the region appears to have been delayed two to three weeks," says Kevin Sedivec, North Dakota State University Extension Service rangeland management specialist. He recently toured much of North Dakota, northwestern South Dakota and eastern Montana.
Crested wheatgrass pastures, which typically reach grazing readiness in late April or early May, could be ready for grazing in mid-May. Grazing on smooth brome grass, another early season grass, appears to be delayed until the third week in May.
Native range grasses just started greening up during the week of May 5 and won't reach grazing readiness until early June or later if pastures are dominated by warm-season grasses. The warm-season grasses such as blue grama and bluestems have not started growth as of mid-May.
However, because hay is in short supply in many areas, pasture turn-out already has occurred in much of the northern Plains. Producers who started grazing their range too early will experience a shortage of forage during the second half of the grazing season but should see no long-term negative impacts, provided they minimize overuse (grazing the range too shortly by the end of the grazing season), according to Sedivec.
"On average, for every day you graze in the first 10 days of May, you lose three days on the back end of the grazing season," he says. "When grazing during mid-May, you lose two days on the back end of the season. However, with the delayed grass growth in 2013, I would expect three days lost if grazed during the first half of May and two days lost if grazing from mid-May through late May."
He recommends delaying livestock turn-out to native range until early June and to crested wheatgrass/smooth brome grass pastures until May 15 to 20.
"All of these scenarios assume we will receive average rainfall this spring and early summer," Sedivec says. "If drought conditions prevail in May and June, plan for significant reductions in forage production. Those plans may include tightening your culling guidelines, early weaning, searching for more pastureland to rent, or planting annual forages for late-season grazing or haying.
"Plan for even less grazeable forage if your pasture turn-out on range is in May," he advises. "Minimize overgrazing to maintain healthy plants that will recover quicker following a drought."