Texas has over 142M acres of open lands (i.e., working lands) with the majority designated as grazing lands for various livestock (105M acres; 2012). Texas leads the nation in sheep, goat and cattle production with over 94M head of cattle alone. Even with this strong representation, landowners often mix livestock production and wildlife management on the same property. Other landowners now primarily manage for wildlife on an additional 3.3M acres which helps maintain ecological functions of the state’s grasslands and forests. Given the preponderance of livestock and growing interest in wildlife management, it’s easy to understand why grazing management is essential for sustaining and improving open lands in Texas.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service (Agrilife) is working to reach landowners and managers in innovative ways, and we created a number of free mobile apps to assist in land, wildlife and livestock management decisions. While there are a number of apps available, AgriLife’s Cow Poop Analyzer and the Stocking Rate Calculator for Grazing Livestock apps are two valuable tools when it comes to how cattle are responding to food sources and how many head to stock.
Cow Poop Analyzer
The Cow Poop Analyzer app can be used to monitor crude protein and digestibility of forage that cattle are grazing. This app allows the user to take pictures of a manure pile and then cross reference the photo to other photos of manure with known forage quality descriptions. Each new record is then tied back to a particular pasture and time of year so that forage quality can be monitored over time.
Matching forage quality with the nutritional requirements of cattle at different times of the year will allow livestock managers to know when forage quality is adequate, how to utilize available forage more efficiently, and when supplemental feed may be needed.
With the cow poop analyzer app, the user can make use of several options on the home screen to easily create a new record or view existing records to gain an understanding of forage quality. Forage quality descriptions are available to assist livestock managers in determining when supplemental feed may become beneficial to animal performance. This app is available in the App Store.
Stocking Rate Calculator
A common challenge among livestock managers is knowing how many animals to stock on a given parcel of land. Being overstocked could lead to overgrazing, decreased forage production, increased feed costs, erosion problems, and degraded habitat for wildlife such as quail and other grassland birds.
The Stocking Rate Calculator app allows livestock managers to efficiently and reliably calculate stocking rates for a property based on actual forage production. Users can identify the size of the animal as well as the length of time the property will be grazed. This app is applicable for a variety of animals, including cattle, horses, sheep, or goats.
Following guidelines provided in this three-part YouTube video series (Determining Stocking Rates to Benefit Cattle and Quail Part I, Part II, and Part III), livestock managers can get an accurate estimate of current forage production that can then be used in the Stocking Rate Calculator app.
The Stocking Rate Calculator uses forage production and grazing acreage to determine available forage for livestock. The number and size of each animal as well as the length of time that they will graze a particular area is used to determine forage demand. This app is available in the App Store.
Advantages of Proper Grazing
Overgrazing leads to a decrease in forage production and individual animal performance, while also limiting a manager’s ability to mitigate drought and provide quality wildlife habitat. Soil health and water quality and quantity are also negatively impacted when over utilization occurs. The cow poop analyzer and stocking rate calculator provide managers with information to make sound management decisions that will lead to improved vegetation and animal production.