You Can't Improve What You Can't Measure  

May, 2022
Rod Greder, UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County

Measurement motivates! When I tried to lose 30 lbs. a decade ago I struggled and couldn’t make progress. I then set up an excel spreadsheet and began to track my running distances, my times, my estimated calories consumed and my weight every day. I tend to be a little analytical. My kids call me anal.

In less than six months I lost 35 lbs. I became fixated on seeing those key numbers head in the right directions. I even graphed them to allow my tiny pea brain to see the differences more starkly.

Even little improvements add up! When we set goals to improve our forage productivity in our pastures we need to use some quantitative form of measurement. The windshield drive-by survey on the 4-wheeler only works so well. Our visual senses can detect a 30-40% thicker stand but not necessarily a 10-15% improvement.

Figure 1

Ten percent improvement on a 3 Ton per acre yield is 600 lbs per acre per year. For a lactating 1200 lb cow that consumes 3% of her BW/daily that is an additional 15 days of grazing per acre. Ten percent matters. It also motivates, and then you want to shoot for 20% and even 40% if it can be achieved economically.

Tools exist to more accurately measure forage production and do it in real time. You can use body condition scores during the season or wait till season’s end to get weaning weights and then think back about forage conditions and the season. These are lagging indicators. Leading indicators like pasture measurement in season allow you to make changes in-season such as whether to do another split application of N or whether you need to increase rest periods by dividing pastures into more paddocks or trying to lease more land or heaven-forbid feed hay for a period to provide more rest for pastures.

How should we measure? We can stake out a defined area and clip and dry the forage before and after management changes to get an accurate measurement but that takes time. We can use automated tools like the rising plate meter or grass master to automate measurement but cost and complexity like the need to calibrate the tool to your grass species and the pasture condition outweigh the benefits for most producers.

Grazing sticks have been around for many years. They can be accurate within a useful range if used correctly and under the right conditions. They also can require some calibration for best accuracy. If nothing else they help us analyze our pasture more concretely by walking more of it. The pasture stick has been modified to be more accurate for Florida grasses and conditions. Stay tuned for an update later in the year on the availability of new sticks for Florida ranchers.

Figure 1

A Pasture Condition Score Sheet is a great tool to establish a baseline for the health of your pasture. It can be used to track the changes from altered management practices you make to determine their impact and document a return on your investment. It also is a great tool to use to train your eye to look for the different factors that affect pasture productivity. Stay tuned for some upcoming workshops on using the pasture condition scoresheet as a tool for pasture improvement in South Florida.

NRCS Pasture Scoring Manual ImagePasture Condition Score Sheet

Remember, you can’t, won’t, don’t improve what you can’t, won’t, don’t measure!


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