(Lesson 1. Planning a Grazing System continued)

One aspect often overlooked is monitoring the system. How is the farm plan working? Develop a specific set of monitoring tools to measure progress. The indicators listed below give a good framework for a monitoring system that can determine how well the system is working and when adjustments need to be made. It is important to keep records of observations and measurements. The following lists and the forms in Appendix C and Appendix Ca (PDF) may be used as examples to record monitoring information, or you can make your own. Do not select more tools than you will use, or tools that are not pertinent to your goals, but DO IT!

Visual Forage Indicators

  • Pasture condition: vigor, health (poor to excellent)
  • Forage density: how thick is desirable vegetation
  • Color: degree of greenness
  • Pasture productivity: rate of regrowth
  • Uniformity of grazing

Environmental Indicators

  • Erosion problems and soil characteristics
  • Trails or paths developing
  • Streambank erosion and cover
  • Plant diversity
  • Manure distribution
  • Earthworm populations
  • Wildlife presence or use

Monitoring tools

Soil. Take soil samples to determine soil pH and fertility. Identify soil type. Soil analysis results will offer lime and fertilizer recommendations for the crop that you are planning. Fertilizing without previous analysis can lead to under- or over-application, which is a waste of money and a potential pollution source. Contact your local UMaine Extension county office or from the Maine Soil Testing Lab for soil testing information and materials. For more information about testing your soil, see Bulletin #2286, Testing Your Soil.

Plant diversity. Walk in a zigzag pattern across each pasture. At several points toss a one-foot square grid, count how many legumes, grasses, shrubs and weeds are in each square. Record the information on chart (See Figure 3) and note general area on your field map. Take notes as you walk the pasture. Add up all legumes, grasses, shrubs and weeds in the pasture and total them. Finally, divide the number of each type of plant by the total number of plants and multiply by 100 to determine the percentage of each type of plant in the pasture. Grids should be representative of the whole pasture. Repeat this process each year to determine improvement.

Figure 3. Notes on pasture composition, condition, production, and soil characteristics.

Date Composition Condition Production
Soil Test
Legumes Grass Shrubs Weeds Total % ground
pH N P K
Pasture 2
Point A 6 23 2 1 80% 7 in.
Point B 5 17 5 3 85% 8 in.
Total 11 40 7 4 62
Percentage (%) 17.7 64.5 11.3 6.5 82.5 7.5 2.8 7.3
Notes/comments: Control weeds with application of herbicide directly to each plant + clipping
Seed legumes — frost seeding next winter
— no-till drill — find out cost
Productivity = 7.5 – 3 = 4.5 in available for grazing

Pasture Condition

How much bare soil can you see? Based on a visual estimate of green plant ground cover after the paddock has been grazed leaving a 2-4 inch residual stubble height, determine if it is fair, good or excellent based on the following criteria:

  • Fair: Less than 75% ground cover or greater than 25% bare ground.
  • Good: 75 – 90% ground cover or 10-25% bare ground.
  • Excellent: At least 90% ground cover or less than 10% bare ground.

Pasture productivity

As you walk your pastures to determine composition, you can follow the visual or the clipping method to determine productivity and forage available for grazing or cutting for hay.

A. Visual Method. Measuring pasture height is a tool for making quick estimates of the pounds of forage dry matter in the field at the time measurements are taken. Determine the average vertical height of the undisturbed stand of forage species in inches, and use the table and instructions shown in Appendix D to estimate the amount of forage available for harvest.

B. Clipping Method. To estimate pasture productivity more accurately, use the clipping method explained in Appendix E.

  1. Grazing Stick (Manual and Electronic): The manual version is a three foot long stick marked with different species of forage that you can estimate the forage density. The electronic version uses radio frequencies to make electrical measurements of forage density and will store measurements.
  2. Rising Plate Method. (Manual and Electronic): This is a variation on the Grazing Stick. It has a Plexiglas plate with a stick through its center. The height of the forage is compressed and this is taken into account when you calibrate the readings. You need to use the clipping method to calibrate to your area. This is also available in an electronic version that will quickly tally measurements.

After determining productivity, condition and composition, go back to the map drawn on the aerial picture. Make notes on each field about present condition and plans for improvement.

Click on the links below to finish Lesson 1: