Setting a stocking rate is one of the most important decisions that ranchers or land managers make.

The stocking rate is the number of specific kinds and classes of animals grazing or using a unit of land for a specific time period.

“Regardless of which grazing management system is employed, vegetation type grazed or kind and class of livestock involved, stocking rate has the largest impact on the health of the grassland resource and animal performance of all management tools available,” says Miranda Meehan, the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s livestock environmental stewardship specialist.

When setting the stocking rate, knowing the carrying capacity of the pasture is critical.

Carrying capacity is a measure of how much forage a grazing unit has and is able to produce in an average year. The carrying capacity is the maximum stocking rate possible that is consistent with maintaining or improving forage production and vegetation composition, and other related resources.

It’s also defined as the amount of forage available for grazing animals. It is expressed as the number of available animal unit months, or number of animal units grazed for one month.

“To ensure the health of your grazing resources, it is important that the stocking rate does not exceed the carrying capacity,” says Kevin Sedivec, NDSU Extension rangeland management specialist.

To aid ranchers and land managers in determining carrying capacity and setting stocking rates, Meehan and Sedivec have developed a set of grazing management tools:

“Determining Carrying Capacity and Stocking Rates for Range and Pasture in North Dakota,” a publication (
NDSU Range and Pasture Calculator), a web-based calculator that allows you to export files for your records (
NDSU Grazing Calculator App, which is available for Android and Apple devices in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, respectively.