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Stocking rate and cow-calf production on sand sagebrush rangeland

Gillen, R.L., Sims, P.L.
Journal of range management 2002 v.55 no.6 pp. 542
beef cows, calves, range management, stocking rate, Artemisia filifolia, optimization, body weight, precipitation, drought, seasonal variation, costs and returns, birth weight, temporal variation, profitability, grazing intensity, pastures, weaning weight
Stocking rate is generally considered to be the most important management factor in sustainable grazing of Great Plains grasslands over management periods of 10 to 20 years or longer. Most studies to determine optimum stocking rates have compared only 2 or 3 discrete stocking rates. Our objective was to determine cow, calf, and economic performance on sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia Torr.) rangeland as a continuous function of stocking rate. Replicated stocking rates of 0.11, 0.15, and 0.22 head ha-1 were studied over an 8-year period. Cow weight declined as stocking rate increased in drought years but was not affected by stocking rate in wetter years. Weaning percentage was not affected by stocking rate but variation within treatment groups was high. Calf birth weight and weaning weight both declined as stocking rate increased. Comparing 0.11 and 0.22 head ha-1, calf production cow-1 declined from 206 to 144 kg cow-1 as stocking rate increased but calf production ha-1 increased from 22.6 to 31.7 kg calf ha-1. Net returns were maximized at $7.87 ha-1 year-1 at a stocking rate of 0.172 head ha-1, well within the range of experimental treatments. Net returns were within 5% of maximum between stocking rates of 0.156 and 0.183 head ha-1. The variability of all responses increased as stocking rate increased. Simulation indicated that improved livestock prices and increased animal productivity shifted the economic optimum stocking rate to higher levels, which would put more pressure on the conservation ethic of land managers.