Once the drought breaks, cattlemen will want to return to their previous stocking rates. But “can I?” and “should I?” are two different things.
In some parts of cattle country, the grass is greener than it has been in years. And it has cattlemen and analysts alike thinking that herd rebuilding is just around the corner.
However, cautions Ted McCollum, Texas AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist in Amarillo, the questions of “can I and “should I” need to be carefully thought through. And the answers may hinge on decisions made years ago.
“Can I return to my previous stocking rate? It depends,” McCollum says, on the answer to this question: “Given time, is your plant community able to recover to its previous state?”
The answer to that hinges on your grazing practices prior to the drought, he says, which will affect plant vigor going into a drought; your pasture management during the drought, which affects plant stress; and your management as you exit the drought.
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“So can I return to previous stocking rates? On some places, yes; on some places, no,” he says. Only time and an individual analysis of each pasture will tell that tale.
The other, and perhaps more important, question is should you return to previous stocking rates? In a lot of cases, McCollum says, the answer is no. That’s because pastures may have been overstocked to begin with.
“The reason it’s overstocked is because we haven’t changed our management approach over the years,” McCollum says. “In 1960, I was running 300 cows on my ranch. In 2010, I was running 300 cows.”
Does that mean you’re overstocked? Probably so, he says. “Most of our cows have become larger over that time period. So there’s a lot of land that was overstocked because we’re still trying to run the same number of cows that dad or granddad did, but our cows are 200-300 lbs. heavier. If I’m running 300, 1,200-lb. cows vs. 300, 1,000-lb. cows, I’m 20% overstocked.”
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