Know Your Rangeland for Better Beef Production

Beef production in many areas of Nebraska is contingent on rangelands that produce native vegetation.  Photo courtesy of Troy Walz.
Beef production in many areas of Nebraska is contingent on rangelands that produce native vegetation. Photo courtesy of Troy Walz.

By Mitch Stephenson, UNL Range and Forage Management Specialist and Bethany Johnston, Nebraska Extension Educator

Beef production in many areas of Nebraska is contingent on rangelands that produce native vegetation. We rely on this vegetation to capture energy from the sun, expend that energy into forage, be grazed, reproduce, and then do it all over again during the next growing season. We often ask a lot of our rangelands, especially in drought years and, to top it all off, we still need rangelands to provide valuable ecosystem services like wildlife habitat, water infiltration, carbon sequestration, recreation, and aesthetic values.

Because it is so important to beef cattle production in Nebraska, we need to know our rangelands. Late summer/early fall is an excellent time to set up a rangeland monitoring program. With information collected from mapping pastures and monitoring key rangeland sites, better management decisions can be made.

There are a wealth of resources to help map our rangelands. Pasture maps overlaid with vegetation and soil maps help producers step back and see problem areas (i.e., over grazed areas, weed problems, etc) or areas with lower than desired utilization. Making and evaluating maps can help create grazing management plans and provides reference for making changes in fence lines, watering points, or supplement locations. Use of a simple GPS unit will help in making maps that can turn into better management. Programs like Google Earth Pro give a free starting point for a bird’s eye view of rangelands. The NRCS Web Soil Survey is another tool that provides valuable information on soils, ecological sites, and forage production for specific locations. Using UNL Grazing Record Spreadsheets along with maps of your pastures will help in creating and visualizing grazing plans for the up-coming growing season.

Vegetation monitoring requires a working knowledge of grasses, forbs, and shrubs. Knowing the type of vegetation you have on your rangelands and what it is capable of producing is important for better management. Gathering information through vegetation monitoring provides data to help set stocking rates, understand areas with heavier than desired utilization, and identify trends in how your management is affecting forage production and species composition. The NebGuide “Getting to Know Your Pastures: Techniques to Enhance Monitoring” explains different monitoring practices. The UNL App GrassSnap is a great digital tool for creating photo monitoring references of your rangelands. Nebraska Extension personnel, NRCS, the UNL Range short course, and other resources can provide more information on how to set up a useful monitoring program.

Once maps have been created and monitoring procedures have been established new management options may be available to increase grazing efficiency and rangeland sustainability. People have had a role, both positive and negative, in shaping rangeland condition in Nebraska for centuries. We often ask a lot of our rangelands, but if we manage them properly they can continue to provide a valuable and sustainable resource.

Helpful Links:
Managing Drought on the Ranch

Google Earth Pro

NRCS Web Soil Survey

UNL Grazing Records Spreadsheet

Common Grasses of Nebraska

Common Forbs and Shrubs of Nebraska

GrassSnap Webpage or

Getting to Know Your Pastures, Techniques to Enhance Monitoring

Nebraska Extension

Natural Resource and Conservation Services (NRCS)

UNL Range Short Course

Rangeland Inventory, Monitoring, and Evaluation

Integrating Management Objectives and Grazing Strategies on Semi-Arid Rangelands

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