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Online tool makes grazing record-keeping more productive

By Chad Ellis
Industry Relations and Stewardship Manager

Posted Jul. 1, 2015

Keeping grazing records to make management decisions is essential in a grazing management operation. For most producers, these records' greatest value is as a tool for planning the future year's grazing including pasture rotations, stocking rates and timing of grazing. In addition, records are an important item for any grazing lease arrangement as well as participation in government conservation programs.

Many ranchers make management decisions on a daily basis without adequate supporting information or without using the records they have written down. Records are a tool and only useful if you use them. But, if you're like me, records are very cumbersome; they are found on the back of a calendar, napkin, or feed sack on the seat or dash of the pickup. As managers, we must sort through dozens of records or files to draw a clear picture of how, when and to what degree a particular pasture was grazed in a certain timeframe, or when and where a specific management group was grazed.

To address the cumbersome nature of keeping and reviewing grazing records, the Montana Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) spearheaded the development of the GrazeKeeper. GrazeKeeper was developed by ranchers for ranchers as a method to plan and record grazing activities in a manner that allows reports to be created and pulled at will.

What is GrazeKeeper?

GrazeKeeper is an online application designed as a tool to inventory, measure the degree of grazing on pasture, track livestock movements, and most importantly to report livestock movements by pasture or management group while providing a visual and actual record of available forage. GrazeKeeper will help determine the effectiveness/feasibility of managing grazing lands, allowing managers to make sound decisions and maximize economic return for managing their ranch. There are three major areas of focus in the program: plan, record, and reports (tracking, pasture use, livestock, weather).


Why use GrazeKeeper?

GrazeKeeper is the first of its kind. It is a grazing record-keeping, online application with the capability to collect information for each pasture including:

  • Name of pasture.
  • Size and location of pasture.
  • Type of vegetation per pasture (manually input or use a dropdown option for general description of vegetation native range, pasture, etc.)
  • Available grazeable acres in each pasture.
  • Number of days grazed during each grazing event, animal unit months per acre, cow days per acre or stock days per acre.
  • Average weight per head or animal unit, recovery period (turn-in dates and take-out dates).
  • Fertility inputs (if applicable).
  • Supplemental feed (if applicable).
  • Amount of rainfall/precipitation.
  • Residual forage height.
  • One of the major features in GrazeKeeper is the weather feature that uses the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service, which is updated hourly into locations identified with Google Maps. Ultimately, the program is intended to graduate to Google Earth, which will allow tracing of pasture boundaries directly into the program and assist with determining usable and nonusable acres in each designated pasture.

When the plans are in place, the program allows the user to query the input data/information and receive reports by specific pasture and/or management groups. This three-dimensional feature is really what sets this program apart from any others.

The Montana GLCI started the GrazeKeeper project four years ago and is still working toward the end product, which has the potential to provide land managers with a very useful tool for record keeping, monitoring, and providing needed reports to inform decisions about the grazing lands and livestock they manage. Interested users can sign up for GrazeKeeper under a free 90-day trial period, which offers full functionality of the program and its valuable reports to users.