Skip to main content

South Dakota Grazing Management Practices: Current & Future

Updated August 06, 2020

Tong Wang

SDSU Extension Advanced Production Specialist

Grazing land occupies 54% of the rural land and accounts for a key portion of land use in South Dakota (NRI, 2012). It is therefore of vital importance to keep grassland healthy to prevent habitat loss, invasion of exotic grass species, and declines in productivity and biodiversity. Many of the grassland problems, such as weed invasion and bare ground, can be avoided by using efficient grazing management practices.

We can divide grazing management practices into three broad categories, continuous grazing, simple rotational and intensive rotational (USDA, 2015). Under continuous grazing, livestock have unrestricted access to the entire pasture throughout the grazing season. Simple rotational system rotates livestock through more than one pastures, and livestock graze on each pasture for weeks to months before moving to the next one. Under intensive rotational system, the pasture are divided into a larger number of smaller pastures and the cattle graze on one pasture for a very short period, usually 1 to 7 days, followed by a long grass recovery period of several months (Teague et al., 2013).

Many professional ranch consultants, such as Ranching for Profit Inc., advocate intensive rotational practice because they have found that using more than 20 pastures per herd with adaptive management substantially improves vegetation and soil resources, increases net earnings, and is easier to manage. However, the percentage of intensive rotational users in the U.S. remains very low (Roche et al., 2015). This article is to help understand the current usage status of different grazing management practices in South Dakota and the ranchers’ intention to improve their practices in the future, utilizing our 2018 rancher survey data collected in South Dakota. Out of 1,500 surveys sent, we received 315 responses, accounting for 22.7% of the 1,404 eligible survey samples.

Current Grazing Management Practices in South Dakota

Figure 1 shows the percentage of respondents who adopted simple or intensive rotational grazing on owned and rented land. We can see that in South Dakota, the use of simple rotational grazing is very common. On the owned land, 60% of the respondents reported using simple rotational grazing. The percentage of usage is slightly lower on the rented land, but still above 50%. Compared to simple rotational grazing, the use of intensive rotational grazing practice is very limited, as only less than 10% producers reported practicing it on both owned and rented land. The ‘adopted but discontinued’ category is in general negligible, accounting less than 1% in all reported cases, which indicates that it is very uncommon for adopters to quit using those practices later on.

Four bar graphs illustration rotational grazing adoption in South Dakota. Call Tong Wang at 605-688-4863 for more information.
Figure 1. Current adoption status of rotational grazing in South Dakota.

Desirable Future Grazing Management Practices

Figure 2 demonstrates the current pasture numbers and desirable pasture number reported by users of rotational grazing. About half of the users (51.4%) currently have no more than 5 pastures, and a third of producers (31.1%) have between 6 and 11 pastures, indicating the majority of users adopt simple rotational grazing. The desirable pasture number reported by producers is composed of three main categories: one-third chose ‘no more than 5’ (32.3%), one-third chose ‘6 to 11’ (37.3%), and the other one-third preferred more intensive grazing management. A comparison of two graphs clearly indicate that users’ desired intensity of grazing management is higher than that under the status quo.

To provide some further understanding of the discrepancies of two graphs in Figure 2, Table 1 displays the desirable number of pastures, categorized by current number of pastures, among users of rotational grazing practice. A clear pattern from Table 1 is that no user indicated a desire to reduce their number of pastures, or grazing management intensity. Among them, about one third of users in the “no more than 5” and “6 to 11” pasture category desired to increase their pasture number by one category, and nearly 60% of users in the ’12 to 18’ pasture category indicated a desire to increase their pasture number by one or two categories. Table 1 finding implies that the majority of users recognized the benefits of rotational grazing, and therefore intended to either maintain or further increase the intensity of grazing management.

Two pie graphs side by side illustrating pasture numbers. Call Tong Wang at 605-688-4863 for more information.
Figure 2. Current pasture numbers (left) vs. desirable pasture numbers (right) reported by users of rotational grazing

Table 1. Desired pasture numbers in the future, categorized by users’ current pasture number

Current Pasture Number
Desired Pasture Number
  No more than 5 6 to 11 12 to 18 19 to 30 More than 30
No more than 5 65% 31% 4% 0% 0%
6 to 11 0% 66% 34% 0% 0%
12 to 18 0% 0% 41% 47% 12%
19 to 30 0% 0% 0% 100% 0%
More than 30 0% 0% 0% 0% 100%


Figure 3 shows the future likelihood of adopting by non-users, as well as the likelihood of increasing management intensity by users. Among non-users, 29.8% of producers indicated their adoption in the next 5 years is ‘somewhat likely’, 4.8% of producers indicated ‘likely’, and 1% indicated ‘very likely’ (Figure 3). Based on these numbers, we do not expect to see a drastic increase in adoption of rotational grazing practice in the near future. Low likelihood of adoption among non-users implies that non-users generally do not believe benefits overweighs costs regarding rotational grazing practice. In contrast to the non-users, a larger percentage of users desire to further increase their grazing management intensities. As indicated by Figure 3 (right), half of users indicated some degrees of desire to further increase their pasture number in the future, which is consistent with our findings in Figure 2 and Table 1.

The discrepancies between non-users and users regarding their future decisions on adoption and further increasing grazing management intensity indicate there could exist some physical or perceptional barriers, especially among non-users, which in return may hinder their adoption decisions. Some educational events sharing research results and promoting peer learning could be helpful to provide non-users opportunities to enhance their understanding about different grazing practices and therefore choose the optimal grazing management practices for their ranch.

Two doughnut graphs side by side illustration rotational grazing adoption. Call Tong Wang at 605-688-4863 for more information.
Figure 3. Likelihood of adopting rotational grazing by non-users (left) and likelihood of increasing pasture numbers by users (right).


This article is based upon research work that is financially supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2017-67024-26279.


  • National Resources Inventory (NRI) (2012). A statistical survey of land use and natural resource conditions and trends on U.S. non-federal lands.
  • Roche, L. M., Cutts, B. B., Derner, J. D., Lubell, M. N., & Tate, K. W. 2015. On-ranch grazing strategies: context for the rotational grazing dilemma. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 68(3), 248-256.
  • Teague, W.R., S.L. Dowhower, S.A. Baker, N. Haile, P.B. DeLaune, and D.M. Conover. 2011. Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 141:310-322.
  • Teague, R.; Provenza, F.; Kreuter, U.; Steffens, T.; Barnes, M. 2013. Multi-pasture grazing on rangelands: why the perceptual dichotomy between research results and rancher experience? J. Environ. Manage. 128, 699-717.
  • United States Department of Agriculture. Grazing Management. April 2015.