August 10, 2020

Interpretive Summary: Stocking Rate in the Southern Great Plains

Interpretive Summary: Stocking rate impacts performance and economics of grazing beef steers on mixed-grass prairies of the Southern Great Plains.

By: Dr. Emily Taylor

The number of animals per acre or live weight per acre is more commonly referred to as stocking rate. This management factor can have major impacts on animal performance, producer profitability, and long-term sustainability of native range-based ecosystems. As stocking rate increases, individual animal growth rates decline, usually due to the increased competition for preferred herbage. And, the significant economic pressures to maximize production per acre can prove harmful to rangeland conditions.

Therefore, the objectives of a recent article in Translational Animal Science were to measure the effect of stocking rate on performance and economics of the stocker cattle enterprise for growing steers grazed during the summer growing season on mixed-grass prairies. 

Eight hundred and thirty-six steers were grazed at seven stocking rates ranging from 4.13 ha/steer to 1.83 ha/steer over seven years. During the grazing season, ADG decreased linearly with increasing stocking rate. However, BW gain per hectare increased linearly with increasing stocking rates. Land costs were also included in the economic analysis. The net return per hectare increased linearly from $13 at the 4.13 ha/steer to $52/ha at the 1.83 ha/steer. 

Researchers suggest that in favorable climatic conditions, similar to these seven years, economically optimal stocking rates can be more than doubled compared with the recommended stocking rates of the USDA Soil Conservation Service. In conclusion, the research reported did not capture changes in rangeland vegetation cycles through arid periods. Therefore, more research is needed to determine the long-term implications of these stocking rates during arid conditions.