Carrying capacity, also known as grazing capacity, is the amount of forage available for grazing animals in a specific pasture or field. Understanding how much forage is available is a key principle of pasture management in order to balance the available forage supply with livestock demand.
Carrying capacity can be calculated using a variety of techniques and is somewhat based on trial and error. Carrying capacity can be monitored and adjusted over time to determine the long-term average.
The BCRC Carrying Capacity Calculator allows producers to determine the carrying capacity of pastures based on two methods: 1) estimates based on provincial guides and 2) field-based sampling.
Producers can use the Method 1 calculator if they wish to calculate an estimate of carrying capacity based on available provincial forage production guides. Using Method 1 is easy and works best when the pasture condition (or range health) is similar throughout the field and the forage plant community (or range type) is uniform.
Producers can use Method 2 if they plan on clipping, drying, and weighing samples collected from their pasture. Field-based sampling provides greater accuracy but requires more hands-on work. Producers may choose field-based sampling if provincial guides are unavailable for their region or if pasture types or conditions vary within their field. Forage production varies each year, so the Method 2 approach should include multiple years of sampling to estimate the long-term productivity of the pasture.