Maps and surveys help develop detailed grazing plans.

To Kathy Miles Burnham, profitable grazing encompasses more than putting cattle on pasture.

"I've heard graziers say, 'We're going to increase our herd size by 40% and we're going to make 40% more,' but unfortunately it's not that easy," says the range management specialist.

From her home office in Omaha, NE, Miles Burnham manages her family's 1,000-head grazing operation and heads Precision Grazing Systems. Using maps, surveys and livestock inventories, she develops grazing plans for large and small operators. "Whether producers are practicing intensive, rotational or continuous grazing, our goal is to give each one a detailed plan to follow," says Miles Burnham, who also makes recommendations on which forage species are best suited to a particular grazing system.

"With a plan, many producers are able to increase their stocking rate and use their land more efficiently," says Miles Burnham. To get started, she asks her clients to compile the following:

* Contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or Natural Resources District (NRD) office to schedule a survey of the property. In most counties, these surveys are free.

* Get a copy of the soils survey for the county from the NRCS or NRD.

* If possible, obtain a map which details fence lines, watering sites, working facilities and headquarters, from the local NRCS or NRD office. A U.S. Geological Survey topographical map, aerial photo or plat map will also work.

* Complete a livestock inventory.

* Create a livestock management schedule that includes calving, working, breeding and weaning dates.

* Describe herd management.

* Determine capacity of wells/tanks.

* Note production capacity of hay fields.

* Answer the following questions: Is crop residue, such as corn stalks, part of the annual grazing plan? Is a herd expansion or downsizing planned?

Working with Agri-Plan, a farm management company, Miles Burnham uses the data that's gathered to estimate the amount of forage available in each pasture. The grazing capacity is calculated in animal unit months (AUMs), which is the amount of forage required to sustain one animal unit (AU) for one month. One AU is considered to be a 1,000-lb. cow and a calf up to three months old.

That information is then matched with livestock inventory to determine adequate stocking rate.

Additionally, the map, survey, grazing capacity and livestock inventory are combined to develop a grazing schedule, which includes the pastures in the grazing system, the number of acres in each pasture, the AUMS available and stocking rates. The grazing schedule also details the class or kind of livestock and their AU equivalent, the number of head and their total forage demand, the number of days each pasture is grazed, the dates cattle are moved in and out of pastures and the amount of forage grazed.

Miles Burnham stresses that producers need to be flexible. "When we develop a grazing system, it's always subject to change. For example, if it's dry you may need to rearrange the grazing plans or lease more acres to take pressure off the land," she says.

For more information, contact Kathy Miles Burnham with Agri-Plan at 800/793-1671 or visit www.Agri-Plan.com.

Ann Behling, an agricultural writer based in North Platte, NE.