Establishing and Managing Improved Pastures

By Jeff Mosley
Extension Range Management Specialist
Department of Animal and Range Sciences
Montana State University

  • Establishing Improved Pasture

    • When to seed? - Very early spring, late fall, or winter
    • How deep to seed? - Shallow: 1/4-inch to 112-inch deep
  • Establishing Improved Pastures

    • What type of seedbed? - Moist and very firm
    • Rows spaced how far apart? - Wheatgrasses: 10-14-inch rows, Ryegrasses: 18-24-inch rows
  • Management of improved Pastures

    • How to fence?
      1. Fence seeded pastures separately from native rangeland.
      2. Fence seedings of different species or mixtures separately from each other.
    • How soon to begin grazing a new seeding?
      1. Defer at least until the first seed crop has matured .
      2. May need to exceed 1 year if seedling establishment was slow (weather, weeds, etc).
    • When to begin grazing in spring?
      1. Minimum leaf or stubble heights: Crested wheatgrass: 4 inches, Most other grasses: 6 to8 inches
      2. Wait until standing forage reaches: at least 200 to 300 lbs/acre
    • When to stop grazing in fall?
      1. Grazing fall regrowth is very risky.
      2. Grazing should end 3 weeks before the first killing frost. Otherwise, more residual forage must be left in the pasture.
      3. Rotational grazing better enables plants to withstand fall grazing.
    • How much grazing is okay?
      1. If grazing is too light, wolf plants develop.
      2. If grazing is too heavy, especially in fall, then spring growth is delayed and plants produce fewer tillers.
      3. 3 to 4-inch stubble traps snow, insulates plant crown, and plant growth begins earlier in spring.
    • How well do cattle perform?
      1. Gains average 2 lbs/head/day.
      2. Overall ranch grazing capacity increases.
        • Increased stocking on seeded pastures
        • Increased stocking on native rangeland.

      Extended Grazing Season, Lower Feeding Costs

    • Is fertilizer needed?
      Annual Precipitation - 14 inches or less - no fertilizer
      Annual Precipitation - more than 14 inches - 50 lbs N/ac
      1. Including a legume in the seed mixture is usually more profitable than applying fertilizer.
      2. Planting at wide row spacings will boost production and is usually more profitable than applying fertilizer.
    • What are some appropriate pasture management strategies?
      Year Pasture 1 Pasture 2 • Stocking rate in spring can be 30% greater than in a 1-pasture program.

      • Grazing in fall should leave about 50% of standing forage for grazing next Spring.

      1 Spring Fall
      2 Fall Spring
      3 Spring Fall

      For "Non-Coarse" Species

      Year Pasture 1 Pasture 2 Pasture 3 • Stocking rate in spring is similar to 2-pasture programs.

      • Grazing intensity in fall can be more than 2-pasture programs; leave at least 3-inch residual.



      1 E-Spring L-Spring Fall
      2 Fall E-Spring L-Spring
      3 L-Spring Fall E-Spring
      4 E-Spring L-Spring Fall

      For "Coarse" Species

      Year Pasture 1 Pasture 2 Pasture 3
      1 E-Spring L-Spring Fall
      2 L-Spring Fall E-Spring
      3 Fall E-Spring L-Spring
      4 E-Spring L-Spring Fall

    Grazing Selectivity/Stock Density

    • Stock Density=number of animals per acre
    • When density is low: grazing is selective and individual animal performance is maximized
    • When density is high: grazing is more uniform and individual animal performance is lower.
    • Less selective grazing:
      • Avoid "wolfy" plants
      • Smaller pastures
      • Short time periods: 7 days or less per pasture
      • Stock Density: 3 to 5 cows/acre
      • Recovery periods: 3 to 4 weeks in spring, 2 to 3 months in summer