Re-establishing Forages in Winter Feeding and Yard Areas
This fall and winter has been one of the wettest in recent years. The mud created by the excess rain has made finding the driest location available to feed and yard the cows a challenge. The best scenario for wet weather and muddy conditions is to minimize the area that cattle have access to and then deal with a small problem area. If livestock have access to a large area they will do a moderate amount of damage to the whole area, and any damaged areas will be slow to recover in the spring. One small severely damaged area can be renovated in the spring while the undamaged pastures will have normal growth in the spring.
The challenge of the mud leads to the challenge of what to do with these areas this coming spring. Each situation will be unique, due to the soil type, drainage, species of pasture forages, depth of the mud and size of area. While the extent of damage will vary with each situation, the first level of damage will be to the pasture plants and the second to soil structure. Some of these areas will recover with a little assistance while others will take major renovation.
These areas will have a high level of fertility from the manure, any bedding used and feed wastage. Assess each situation carefully and if the damage is light to moderate then seeding, by either frost seeding or drilling should make the area productive for the coming grazing season.
Those areas that are not too severely damaged may respond to broadcast seeding clovers and grasses in the early spring. Approximately 4-5 pounds of red clover or 2-3 pounds of white clover per acre should supply sufficient seed to give a good stand. Keep livestock off the area until there is a good ground cover re-established.
In some cases broadcasting spring cereals with the forage seed may be beneficial, as the cereals will grow faster then the forages and give some ground cover and pasture by early summer.
Any frost action after the pugging (hooves punching into the soil) and before spring will help to restore some of the soil structure, similar to fall plowing. Soil damage in the spring can have more lasting effect on the soil and make seed bed preparation and seedling establishment difficult.
In most pasture areas there will be a considerable seed supply in the soil and these seeds will have an opportunity to grow under these conditions. In many areas with moderate damage there will still be viable roots that will be able to produce some new growth
If the damage is severe then it may be necessary to do some tillage to level the area and prepare a suitable seed bed for re-seeding. Any tillage should be done after the ground has dried. Tillage of wet soils will do further damage to soil structure and impede seedling establishment. Be particularly cautious if you are considering the use of deep tillage equipment. Forage root systems will often do an effective job of penetrating compacted soils if they are given some time.
In a situation requiring tillage consider what your best option is for re-seeding. In some cases your best option may be to reseed with a perennial forage pasture mix. In other scenarios an annual crop (sorghum, cereals, turnips, or corn) for one year and then seeding back to perennial forage may be your best option. In making this decision consider whether or not you need to feed in this same area next fall or winter. If it is to be a feeding or yard site again next season then consider a cropping plan that allows you to have grass or cereal well established in the fall.
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