What Came First, the Grass or the Livestock?

CSU Extension Website


With the continued drought in Southeast Colorado, livestock producers need to be asking themselves a new twist to an age old question.  Are you in the business of raising grass or raising livestock?  If you do not have grass can you raise livestock on a pasture based operation? 

The next question that needs an answer; if or when your grass starts to get new growth, just because the grass blades are above the ground, should the grass be grazed?  If you graze it now, what will be the long-term effect on the grass plant? 

With the continued drought in Southeast Colorado we are seeing the effect of decisions made a few years ago when the drought was just beginning.  As the above portion of grass plants is removed, or in recent years fails to grow, the plants must rely on the roots to sustain their life.  In other words, the plants are forced to go on a crash diet.  Just as humans that go on crash diets, the plants lose more body mass by losing root volume. 

As a general rule, the root mass of a grass plant is three to four times that volume of the vegetative portion above ground.  The roots of a grass plant have an average turnover rate of approximately thirty percent.  This allows the plants to survive during the dormant period and must be replaced during the next growing period.  Little or no leaf volume to feed the roots causes more root loss.  More root loss causes less energy to be available to grow leaf volume.  Eventually the plant dies.   

Management during the fast regrowth period is critical for plant health.  Plants use this fast growth period to replenish the root volume lost over the winter – i.e. – to regain lost weight.  Grazing periods in the spring should be short to facilitate maximum regrowth of the plants.  It is usually not the first bite of a grazing animal that does the damage; it is the second bite and those that follow.  By adding grazing pressure to drought stressed plants, what are we doing to the long-term health of those plants? 

Now back to the original question.  Are you in the business of raising grass or raising livestock?  If you do not pay attention to the health of your range plants, in the long run you probably will not have livestock anyway.  The more stress you apply to the already stressed plants, the longer it will take for them to recover once conditions change – if they survive at all!  If the plants do not survive, how are you going to stay in the livestock business? 

Hard questions have hard answers! 

For more information on range and livestock resource management, contact your local Extension Office:  Baca County 719-523-6971, Bent County 719-456-0764, Cheyenne County 719-767-5716, Crowley County 719-267-5243, Kiowa County 719-438-5321, Otero County 719-254-7608, Prowers County 719-336-7734.  Or find us on the web at:  http://www.extension.colostate.edu/SEA.  CSU Extension offers up-to-date, unbiased, research-based information to families in Southeast Colorado.  CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination.


Filed Under: AgricultureBusinesscommunityCountyEconomyEducationEnvironmentFeaturedProwers CountyWeather


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