One indicator of overgrazing is that the animals run short of pasture. Under continuous grazing, overgrazed pastures are predominated by short-grass species such as bluegrass and will be less than 2-3 inches tall in the grazed areas. Palatable tall grasses such as orchard- grass are sparse or non-existent.
Soil may be visible between plants in the stand, allowing erosion to occur. Under rotational grazing, overgrazed plants do not have enough time to grow to the proper height between grazing events. The animals are turned into a paddock before the plants have restored carbohydrate reserves and grown back roots lost after the last defoliation.
The result is the same as under continuous grazing-tall-growing species die and short-growing species that are more subject to drought injury predominate the pasture. As the sod thins, weeds encroach into the pasture.
Overgrazing is also indicated in livestock performance and condition. Cows having inadequate pasture in the early fall do not have a chance to gain weight after the calves are weaned and may have poor body condition going into the winter.
This makes them hard to winter and may reduce the health and vigor of cows and calves at calving. Also, cows in poor body condition do not cycle as soon after calving, which can result in delayed breeding. This can result in a long calving season. With good cow genetics and nutrition, 55% to 75% of the calves should come in the first 21 days of the calving season.
Overgrazing can increase soil erosion. Reduced soil depth, soil organic matter, and soil fertility hurt the land’s future productivity. Soil fertility can be corrected by applying the appropriate lime and fertilizer.
However, the loss of soil depth and organic matter takes years to correct. Their loss is critical in determining the soil’s water-holding capacity and how well pasture plants do during dry weather.
To prevent overgrazing, match the forage supplement to the herd’s requirement. This means that a buffer needs to be in the system to adjust for the fast spring growth of cool- season forages.
Another potential buffer is to plant warm-season perennial grasses such as switch-grass, which do not grow early in the season. This reduces the acreage that the livestock can use early in the season, making it easier for them to keep up with the cool-season grasses. The animals then use the warm-season grasses during the heat of the summer, and the cool- season grasses recover for fall grazing.