Do’s and don’ts of grassland management |

Do’s and don’ts of grassland management

Pete Bauman
SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist
Workshops will begin with a short presentation on critical issues, and will quickly move toward more of an open discussion format between agency staff and landowner attendees. Photo courtesy Pete Bauman

Upcoming Workshops

Pierre workshop will be held October 10, 2017 at the SDSU Extension Regional Center in Pierre (412 W. Missouri Ave.)

Mitchell workshop will be held Oct. 11, 2017 at the SDSU Extension Regional Center (1800 E. Spruce St.)

Watertown workshop will be held Oct. 12, 2017 at the SDSU Extension Regional Center (1910 W. Kemp Ave.)

BROOKINGS, S.D. – As an SDSU Extension Range Field Specialist Pete Bauman receives a lot of questions from landowners.

To help answer the most common questions, he is launching a series of columns.

This is the first column which is dedicated to answering questions which relate to establishing, re-establishing and maintaining grass-based plantings for grazing, hay, wildlife, and recreation.

It’s our goal to help grassland managers understand key concepts of grassland management, and thus better prepare the reader to set specific goals and objectives to achieve desired results.

Of primary importance is to ask a few key questions: “what is it that I want my grassland to provide?”, “what am I willing to invest?” and similarly, “what is the time frame that I expect results?”

What do I want my grassland to provide?

For starters, we will consider the first question, “What do I want my grassland to provide?”

There are major differences in what can be achieved in grassland projects based on the history of the land and its management.

Native (unbroken) sod in the form of grazing pastures or prairie areas has certain characteristics and potentials that planted or tame grasslands do not. However, there is great variability within the native sod category regarding historical use and management, which may include various grazing, haying, chemical, fire, or other management techniques.

Past Management Considerations

Past management often drives the direction of the plant community itself, impacting plant health and variety depending on the action.

Native Sod

What native sod can provide in relation to desired goals, such as annual production or plant diversity, can sometimes be achieved, sometimes not. Whether a desired goal is achieved is often dependent on whether the plant community has been ‘simplified’ through invasion of exotic species, past management or both.

In general, native sod that is not performing to its potential should be regarded as something to be healed through well-timed actions that focus on the plant community rather than something to be ‘fixed’ through mechanical soil manipulations.

Non-Native Sod

If the grassland is not native sod and is currently made up of tame species or ‘go-back’ grass that has revegetated on its own, one still must consider past management.

The potential of what the grassland can provide will be based largely on the species (native and non-native) that are now established. In these areas, there is often more opportunity to actively change the plant community through various manipulations than on native sod, though one must be realistic in expectations and timelines.


If the area of concern is currently managed for row crops, cover crops, hay, CRP or some other cover, the opportunity to quickly establish or re-establish a desirable community is possible. However, past management in relation to soil conditions and residual chemicals can have a dramatic impact on establishment of new vegetation.

The Bottom Line

How much one should invest to change a grassland plant community can be a challenging question.

Input costs for soil preparation, seeding, and maintenance can be highly variable. One must first consider a strategy to ensure the soil is ready to receive the new plants. Profit potential can also be highly variable and is directly related to initial and ongoing input expenses.

This article just scratches the surface of considerations related to maintaining and establishing grasslands. We will continue to explore the vast variety of questions posed by landowners seeking to improve their grassland resources.

Grassland Management Workshops

SDSU Extension will be hosting Grassland Management Workshops in Pierre, Oct. 10; in Mitchell, Oct. 11 and in Watertown, Oct. 12.

All workshops run from 9 a.m. to 12:30 (CST). The workshops are offered at no cost and no registration is required.

The workshops will focus on answering landowners’ questions which SDSU Extension staff have received throughout the year.

–SDSU Extension