Starting the Pasture Season

As I write this article the temperatures are still cold and there is snow everywhere, the winter of 2013-14 just does not want to go away! By mid to late May the pastures will be in a rapid growth stage and you will be setting the stage for the 2014 grazing season. Don't overgraze those fields, keep a residual grass height of 3-4 inches so that there is lots of leaf area to intercept sunlight and photosynthesize into plant growth. The root system is a mirror image of the top growth; short plants have shallow roots and will be much more prone to drought conditions. Deep rooted plants can find moisture throughout a prolonged dry spell.

Watch the growth in all your pastures and move cattle frequently enough to get to that last pasture before the plants have headed out and are so large that the cattle have difficulty biting them off and swallowing. Animal intake is very much a function of bite size, a big bite of easily swallowed grass will result in higher intakes and more productivity in the form of gain and milk production.

The fertility of pastures can be maintained by applying compost or manure immediately following a grazing rotation. Include legumes in the pasture sward to provide nitrogen to the legumes and grasses. Ideally pastures will have greater than 50% legume content – alfalfa, white clover, trefoil and red clover are all excellent pasture legume species.

Utilizing a rotational grazing system that has the livestock moving to a fresh paddock every 1-3 days will give much more even distribution of manure and urine resulting in more even plant growth throughout the paddocks.

Sub-divide paddocks, ideally livestock are on a fresh patch of pasture every day and certainly every five days. Fresh pasture means better intakes, less wastage through tramping, laying and fouling with manure and urine, less over grazing that slows the growth of those plants that have been grazed shorter than 3-4 inches. Frequent moves also improve the distribution of manure and urine on the pasture which will promote more even plant growth. Sub dividing can be easily accomplished with an electric wire on a reel and a few step-in-posts; a few minutes invested in temporary sub dividing fences will pay very significant dividends in increased pasture productivity.

Annual crops and cover crops can provide extra pasture for late summer and into the fall. Can you seed into cereal stubble after grain harvest? Did you frost seed red clover into your wheat fields – it can be grazed in September – November. Brassicas, cereals, sorghum-sudan grass, are all options to provide extra pasture or forage from fields that would otherwise be sitting idle from late summer into late fall.

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