Fall Pasture Management Following a Dry Summer
The summer of 2007 has been one of the driest on record in many parts of Ontario and pastures are showing the impact! There are a number of steps to consider this fall and next spring to bring pastures back into top form.
Allowing pasture re-growth this fall will result in a more vigorous stand next spring. Sacrifice a small pasture and feed in this area rather than letting the livestock roam across the entire pasture. Once moisture levels return, and the grass starts to re-grow, give pastures a chance to develop before allowing livestock to graze. The plants need time to grow new root and leaf material and re-build root reserves, to replace what was damaged during the dry weather.
If feeding green-chopped forage, be aware that nitrate levels may be high in drought-stressed corn or sorghum, that could be deadly to livestock. Refer to "Drought Damaged Corn Silage" on the OMAFRA Website.
Don't under-estimate the amount of forage available in a grain stubble field. As well as the stubble and chaff left behind, grain that went out the back of the combine, missed grain heads and grass weeds will all provide feed. There will be between a few days to a few weeks of feed in these cereal fields. Soybean stubble fields are another option. This emergency feed can be supplemented with hay or other feed to complete the ration.
If sufficient growing season remains and soil moisture is adequate, consider an annual forage. Fall rye grows well into the fall, and greens up early in the spring. Depending on the length of growing season remaining, oats, rape or stubble turnips might be considered. These crops are best sown in early- to mid-August.
Nitrogen fertilizer applied to a grass-based pasture during the early fall will encourage growth and help to rejuvenate the grass. 50 to 70 pounds of actual nitrogen should be applied. Expect 20 to 30 pounds of dry matter production from each pound of nitrogen applied. Fall application will increase the sugar levels in the grasses, and enable more vigor next spring.
To establish new legumes in a pasture, the best method may be to apply phosphorous and potash this fall, and then frost seed late in the winter or early next spring with trefoil or clover. The legume seedlings will need a reasonable level of fertility to get properly established, and the weakened grasses will be less competitive.
For more information, refer to "Looking for Extra Forage", "Conserving Pasture Production During Dry Conditions" and "Fall Pasture Fertility Management After A Drought" on the OMAFRA Forage Website.
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