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“One of the things that we hear a lot is that there’s not great record keeping tools for intensive grazing or that people are adopting tools that are built for other things,” says PastureMap Co-founder and CEO Christine Su.

Su began developing the app as a custom solution for intensive grazing systems management.

“We want to make it easy for producers at the beginning of the season to plan out their fencing, to subdivide as they go along and also to record where their herds have moved,” she continues.

Drawing

“The first feature that we built was the ability to easily draw up pastures,” explains Su.

The program automatically calculates the acreage and perimeter of each pasture.

From there, users are able to begin planning subdivisions in each pasture for use throughout the grazing season.

“We can either plan our fencing on website side of the system, sync it up to our mobile device and go out and build fence, or we can build fence by being outside and assessing how much we need to subdivide and log it in our mobile device. Then, when we get back home, it will sync back up, and we’ll have that record,” she notes.

Once users are done moving herds through each subdivision, each one can be archived and re-fenced.

Herd

According to Su, PasureMap includes a simple, “bare bones” herd management feature.

Each group can be listed as a herd, with information including the number of animals and weight estimates, which are converted to animal units, and average daily gain (ADG).

“We wanted to give some sort of assumption for weight gain that translates into the dry matter intake (DMI) that they’re eating,” says Su. “It will continue to get bigger as the herd gains weight.”

Users are able to upload ear tag numbers to correspond with each animal in the herd, and weight records can be added individually or for the entire group.

When moving the herd into different pastures, users are able to choose a move-in date and time and determine which herds are moving, and the system will calculate the daily DMI for the herd.

“We’ll give users an estimate of how much dry matter the cattle took off based on the herd’s dry matter intake,” she explains.

Inventory

Another feature available through the app is pasture inventory, says Su.

“If we have been trained to assess available dry matter, we can do that, or we can list the number of animal unit days,” she continues. “We don’t use this for calculations but so we have it in our records.”

Users are able to take photos to record forage use and availability at a given time.

“This is useful for people who have staff, as we can have that eye in the field by asking our staff to take pictures pre- and post-grazing,” Su explains.

As most users don’t have access to cellular service while in the pastures, photos are first stored locally on their phone.

“When we get back to Wi-Fi reception, it’ll sync back up with the system, upload those photos to the account and remove them from the phone’s local memory,” she continues.

Resources

The system also has grazing innovators listed, who are experts in their field and provide support to new users.

Varying levels of membership are available for producers to choose from, ranging from a free, basic version to commercial operations, with subscriptions available on an annual or monthly basis.

“We developed the monthly pricing for users who only graze seasonally. It is more expensive since it’s intended for users who will only input data for one to three months,” concludes the app. “We recommend the annual membership for most ranchers.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

With tougher decisions looming whether to market weaned calves, producers may want to look at backgrounding as an alternative.

Mary Drewnowski, beef specialist with the University of Nebraska, shares some economical ways producers can background calves through the winter months without utilizing winter range.

Wintering systems

When producers look at wintering systems, they are typically looking at corn residue, winter range and harvested silage or hay, Drewnowski explains.

“A lot of producers use their yearlings as a flexibility in their programs. If they don’t have enough grass, they can sell the calves earlier, or if they do, they can make use of it,” she says.

However, Drewnowski sees pasture rent becoming too expensive, when combined with the low market producers are currently experiencing.

With pasture rent averaging $64 a month per pair in many areas of Nebraska, Drewnowski says even figuring that a producer can run two yearlings for one cow, it is still a dollar a day.

“That is really pretty expensive when we consider winter range quality and that we will need to add in a supplement,” she says. “I would encourage producers to put a pencil to the numbers. Corn residue could be purchased a lot cheaper.”

Some cattlemen shy away from corn residue because of fencing, location and the ability to watch the cattle, but these are issues Drewnowski says producers should be able to overcome, if they are willing to think outside the box.

“It could be a good opportunity for a young individual looking to get into the business,” she says. “Why not rent some corn residue fields and take in cattle to watch through the winter?”

Analyzing gain

For producers considering wintering their calves, the beef specialist says they need to look at how much they want the calves to gain.

“Rate of gain during the winter affects summer gains,” she says. “If we are going to do a long year lease system, the rate of gain we select will influence gains on summer grasses.”

An easy way to determine stocking rate is two 500 to 600 pound calves for every 100 bushels per acre for 40 days.

“They will primarily utilize the leaf and husk. A good rule of thumb is 50 percent utilization,” she notes.

Supplementation

Drewnowski also believes supplementing the calves with distiller’s grain is necessary with either corn residue or winter range, so producers can get reasonable gains.

She shares a study where calves were supplemented with corn, corn and urea, distiller’s grain and no supplement. The calves failed to gain if they didn’t receive some type of supplement, she emphasizes. The calves gained the most on the distiller’s grain supplementation.

“I would urge producers to put a pencil to it, but even if they are located some distance from the distiller’s grain, I think with shipping, producers can still get distiller’s grain cheaper than a corn urea supplement,” she tells producers. “Distiller’s grain is cost-effective for calves because they are usually deficient in rumenally un-degradable protein, and it is a great source of that.”

“Distiller’s grain is a true protein that can bypass the rumen, be absorbed by the animal and used to grow,” she states.

“I’ve seen great performance with distiller’s grain,” she continues. “Most vegetative and high-quality grasses limit performance because of the lack of un-degradable protein. Distiller’s grain is a great source of that, which is why we recommend it.”

Comparing supplement

Drewsnowski discusses a second study where performance was measured between distiller’s grain and a corn urea supplement.

Distiller’s grain came out on top because of its ability to bypass the rumen, she says.

While urea is a rumenally degradable protein source, cattle depend fully on bacteria in the rumen to process and utilize it.

“In feedlot cattle, wet distiller’s grain is recommended, but in calves, we don’t see much difference in performance between modified, wet or dry distiller’s grain in forage-based systems,” she says. “I would recommend pricing it on cost and cost of transport.”

“Wet gets expensive if it has to be transported very far, but the other two options can be pretty economical,” she adds.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Exotic plants can be invasive and take over rangeland and pasture land. In Wyoming, yellow sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis) is an exotic legume introduced from Europe and Asia to the U.S. as a forage crop.  Yellow sweetclover has been documented to invade and dominate plant communities by outcompeting other herbaceous plants for resources.  Currently, yellow sweetclover is listed as “invasive” in 26 states, including Wyoming, by the Alien Plant Working Group. The use of strategic grazing with sheep has been suggested as a strategy to reduce invasion and dominance of invasive plants. However, no data exists documenting the preferential selectivity of sheep on sweetclover and the changes of sweetclover dominance and structure relative to other plant functional groups. 

In 2015 and 2016, we used two groups of sheep – Rambouillet and Hampshire/Suffolk commercial ewes – to strategically graze yellow sweetclover-invaded pastures at the University of Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Sheep Unit in Laramie. In 2015, there were 24 ewes plus lambs in each breed group, and in 2016 there were 21 ewes plus lambs in each breed group.  Pastures were eights acres in size, and sheep were rotated from June through August for approximately three-week intervals. 

As sheep moved into a new pasture, they were repeatedly observed to immediately select the yellow sweetclover plants, first by eating the flower blooms and then by eating the youngest leaves. We also conducted vegetation sampling before sheep entered a pasture and after sheep left a pasture by measuring abundance of grasses, yellow sweetclover, forbs or flowering plants and cactus and measuring the structure of the yellow sweetclover.  We were able to compare these measurements to pastures that had no sheep or cattle grazing but did have pronghorn present regularly.

We found no differences between breeds of sheep in how they changed the plant community composition. 

Before sheep grazing, relative abundance of yellow sweetclover was 33 percent. After sheep grazing, yellow sweetclover was reduced to seven percent, and in the control pastures with no sheep grazing, yellow sweetclover was 29 percent. 

In contrast, before sheep grazing, relative abundance of grasses was 61 percent. After sheep grazing, grasses were increased to 91 percent, and in the control pastures with no sheep grazing, grasses were 65 percent. 

Our sheep grazing treatments reduced elevated leaves on yellow sweetclover from 100 percent to less than 20 percent, reduced the height of yellow sweetclover plants by 50 percent and reduced the number of flowering stems per plant from 14 per plant to less than one per plant. 

The reduction in flowers is important because these are the reproductive plant parts that produce seeds.

So, as we deal with invasion of exotic plant species, sometimes we can employ sheep to use their flexible dietary preferences.  We will continue to investigate this project to see if the results in the growing season lead to long-term reductions. 

For more information contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and check out my blog ‘Rangelands4u’ at wyoextension.org/rangelands4u.

Always put a pasture lease agreement in writing, advises a University of Nebraska Extension Educator Jay Jenkins in discussing developing pasture lease arrangements.

“Lease agreements are binding for producers and their heirs,” he says. “Get legal counsel when developing these types of agreements.”

Establishing agreements

Land owners with grazing pastures to lease should offer agreements that treat both parties fairly, because the lease will have more staying power, Jenkins says.

He explains, “They are more likely to be renewed, more likely to be followed and more likely to be enforced.”

“Fair is free from favor toward either or any side,” Jenkins continues. “Fair implies an elimination of personal feelings, interests or prejudices so as to achieve a proper balance of conflict of needs, rights or demands.”

Price

Price is usually the first thing ranchers look at when deciding if a lease agreement is fair. Ranchers are used to relatively transparent markets in regards to price, but it can be a little more difficult to determine a fair price on grazing land since they just can’t look up current prices in a newspaper or hear them on the radio, Jenkins explains.

To help determine a fair price, Jenkins says most states offer some type of farm and grazing land publication with current rental rates. The University of Nebraska publishes the Nebraska Farm Real Estate Market Highlights each June. In this guide, the state is divided into eight districts, and a range of land lease prices is given.

The National Agricultural Statistics service also publishes per acre rent data they get from their farmer and rancher surveys. This information is broken out by county or district, but just provides an average rate.

Jenkins says county Extension agents may also have a good idea of the going rate for range leases, locally.

Terms

Typically, rangeland is leased by the acre, which tends to cover the year-around use of a piece of land, or per-pair-per-month, which is essentially the sale of a given amount of grass. This lease typically covers the grazing season and is usually about five months in length.

Per-acre leases are most affected by pasture productivity, Jenkins says.

“The more grass a pasture produces, the more valuable it is on a per-acre basis. In areas with higher average rainfall, grazing pastures will have higher rental rates,” he notes.

In a per-pair-per-month lease, price differences can be attributed to the amount of care provided by the landowner. Grass listed in the higher price range typically has full care provided by the landowner, and grass in the low-cost range is where the lessee does most or all of the work.

Landowners need to keep in mind that cow size figures into per-pair-per-month leases.

“Forage intake is directly related to cow body weight,” he explains. “If a cow weighs 20 percent more than average, she will eat 20 percent more, and it should cost 20 percent more.”

Determine a stocking rate

Landowners should determine a stocking rate before leasing out their grazing pasture.

“Stocking rate is a balance between the forage demanded by the animals and the amount of forage grown,” Jenkins says. “It is the most important part of proper grazing management.”

Landowners need to carefully manage their grazing land to ensure future productivity.

“Too much grazing pressure will lead to decreased long-term forage production of the land,” he says. “It is important to recognize economic incentives of both the land owner and cattle owner are different for per-acre and per-cow- per-month leases.”

When there are only a few animals in a pasture, animal gain is high because the animals are able to utilize the highest quality feed available for them to eat.

However, when the pasture starts approaching the maximum number of animals that should be grazed, there won’t be enough premium grass to go around. This creates more competition for desirable grasses, and the animals will start eating less desirable forages.

“As we add more animals, we will get more total gain, though each animal is gaining less,” Jenkins explains. “If we add too many animals, performance will eventually suffer and total gain will be less even though there are more animals.”

Addressing conflicts

Conflict can arise in per-acre leases because economic pressures push the cattle owner to stock the grass to the point where gain per acre will peak and return to the acre is maximized. However, the landowner would rather see a low stocking rate with less stress on grazing resources because he will earn the same amount of money.

The situation is reversed when a lease is based on per cow per month.

“It is important that the stocking rate be specified in the lease agreement to avoid disagreements,” Jenkins explains. “It also helps the landowner reach his rangeland health goals and gives the cattle owner a chance to reach his production goals.”

Stocking rate can be determined a number of different ways, including average number of animals during a lease period, but Jenkins recommends using animal unit months or animal unit days.

“Whatever way parties express stocking rate, it should be clearly written in the lease agreement and discussed among the parties involved.”

Addressing disaster

It is also important to address how grazing pressure will be reduced in case of drought or some other type of natural disaster, such as hail or fire. Important questions to address are who decides and how will decisions be made, how much notice will be give if stocking rate will be reduced and how will payment be adjusted?

In these cases, Jenkins urges both parties to communicate with one another early and often to avoid conflict.

Other areas that should be addressed in the written lease are on/off dates, residual grass, who does what, who pays for what, subleasing and landowner access and hunting rights.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Grazing cover crops that contain moderate to moderately high nitrate concentration is not without risk, but these cover crops can be grazed successfully,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln Beef Systems Specialist Mary Drewnoski during a presentation of managing nitrate risk in double crop forages.

Many species that producers select as cover crops may be nitrate accumulators, meaning that special care must be taken while grazing cattle.

Warm season species such as corn, millet, sorghums, Sudan grass, sorghum/Sudan crosses and sunflowers, as well as cool season species such as brassicas and small cereal grasses including oats, cereal rye and wheat, are nitrate accumulators

Reducing risk

“There is a risk of high nitrates in many cover crop systems. It is always a good idea to test cover crops,” said Drewnoski.

Forages with zero to 1,100 parts per million (ppm) of nitrate-nitrogen are considered safe. Forages with a ppm of 1,100 to 2,100 are considered moderate risk, 2,100-3,400 ppm are considered high risk, and a ppm greater than 3,400 are considered severe risk.

Drewnoski cautioned producers that laboratories do vary in how they report nitrate levels. The two most common forms that tests will report in are nitrate-nitrogen and nitrate ion.

The ability to utilize nitrate-containing feeds depends on the concentration level, she said.

“There are some management practices that we can use to reduce risk when grazing moderate to moderately high nitrate cover crops,” continued Drewnoski. “For any samples that are severe risk, or greater than 3,400 ppm nitrate-nitrogen, the safest alternative is not to use them.”

Cattle

Regardless of whether a producer is grazing high nitrate forages or not, Drewnoski strongly suggested making sure that cattle are full before putting them out on pastures.

“This is a good management practice regardless of the nitrate level because this slows down the intake of those cover crops initially to allow the rumen to get adjusted,” she said.

The key factor of filling cattle prior to transitioning them is controlling the rate of nitrate intake.

The conversion of nitrate to nitrite occurs much more rapidly than the conversion of nitrite to ammonia, explained Drewnoski.

“Nitrite is the toxic compound that can enter the blood, bind to hemoglobin and make it incapable of transporting oxygen, thus causing the animal to suffocate,” she said. “If we can have a slow intake of nitrate, we can then keep the flow of nitrite to ammonia at the same level as the flow of nitrate to nitrite.”

It is also advisable to feed higher nitrate feeds to lower-risk cattle. Open cows are the lowest risk, followed by growing calves.

“Pregnant cows are at greatest risk because the fetus is particularly susceptible to low oxygen, and abortion can result,” continued Drewnoski.

Grazing

“Animals can safely adapt to higher nitrate levels, and this is because the bacteria that can utilize nitrite and convert it to ammonia can increase in number as nitrite availability increases in the rumen,” commented Drewnoski.

To adapt cattle, it is critical for producers to maintain a slow but steady increase in nitrite so bacterial numbers can increase at the same rate and not leave excess nitrite to enter the bloodstream, she explained.

“We suggest adapting cattle by starting grazing the lowest nitrate fields and then work up to the highest,” said Drewnoski.

Producers are also advised to graze animals lightly on higher nitrate forages to allow animals to selectively graze plant parts.

“Leaves are lower in nitrate concentration and cattle naturally select leaves,” she said. “Forcing the cattle to eat the stem, especially the lower stem, will increase nitrate intake.”

Supplement

The final management strategy that Drewnoski suggested was supplementing cattle with grain while transitioning them to high nitrate forages.

She explained that grain supplementation is particularly useful when feeding high-nitrate lower-quality feeds.

“It is useful because we can supply extra energy to the rumen microbes to convert that nitrate to bacterial protein and minimize nitrate concentration,” she said.

Alternatively, producers may not see a benefit from supplementing grain while feeding higher quality forages.

“This may not be a useful strategy with high quality forages such as brassicas because the rumen available energy is already quite elevated,” she concluded.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..