Summer pasture is one of a livestock producer’s greatest resources. Utilizing it correctly is the key to success and profitability in any operation. Managing pastures allows you to reduce your reliance on stored or purchased forage, provides quality, nutritious forage for your livestock and is less labor intensive than feeding livestock.
How do you ensure pasture has the optimum amount of high-quality forage all season long? By evaluating factors that can affect the growth, quality and quantity of the pasture. These are the four initial steps to begin:
Begin evaluating the pasture by creating a map of each pasture or paddock to serve as a visual reminder of problem areas such as bare or sparsely populated grazing areas, location of water sources, elevation levels and pasture boundaries.
When evaluating, take note of areas of bare or thin forage. Identifying problem areas at the beginning of the grazing season helps determine if over-seeding is needed in the fall.
The next step is to determine which species of perennial forages are growing in the pasture. Cool-season perennials grow well in early spring and fall, while warm-season perennials do well in hot weather. Based on the length of the grazing season, it is crucial to make sure pastures have a mix of both cool and warm-season forages to provide season-long nutrition.
The nutritional quality of pastures is related to the maturity of the forages when harvested. A good grazing management plan ensures that grasses grazed by livestock are growing and approximately six-to-eight inches tall, depending on the type of grass. When forages are allowed to grow tall and stemmy, the quality goes down and they are less palatable to animals, leading to lower consumption rates. In mixed pastures, livestock tend to overgraze shorter and more palatable forage while refusing to eat mature forage. For more insight on forages best suited for your operation, visit the hay and pasture experts at your local Southern States store.
Another important step is evaluating soil. A soil test provides information about soil pH and nutrient levels. It measures the amount of nitrogen, organic carbon and aluminum and levels of micronutrients. This information can help you determine what the soil needs for optimum forage production. As a service, experts at your local Southern States store can help you test the soil ‒ just call and ask.
Identifying and eradicating weeds is another crucial step in pasture management. Weeds are not a good source of nutrients for livestock, and they tend to use valuable resources needed for forage production. Applying the correct herbicide at the right time and managing grasses to encourage a vibrant, healthy stand of desirable forages will keep the weeds at bay.
As summer progresses, pastures need continued management to keep them looking and producing their best. Keep an eye on these things:
Monitor the pasture to make sure it is not being overgrazed. Overgrazing occurs when the plants are grazed too short and lose their growing points, making recovery time harder and longer than it needs to be. Allow grazing when grasses are six to eight inches tall and stop it once they reach three to four inches. Relocate animals to allow the pasture to recover. Rotational grazing systems can be a solution to this challenge.
It can be tempting to “just add another animal” to a pasture or paddock, but it is important to not overstock a pasture with livestock. Too many animals cause issues like inadequate forage supply, overgrazing and compaction, all of which degrade the quality of your pasture over the long term.
Compaction is another issue that can be detrimental to forage production. Controlling compaction in high traffic areas, such as under shade or near sources of water, can be difficult. Identifying those areas and making a few changes for your livestock and pasture are key. Tactics like installing heavy-use pads, which consist of geotextile fabric with crushed stones and dense grade aggregate, provide a dry area for animals to navigate easily while helping solve some of the compaction problem.
Continue to monitor pastures and identify weeds all summer long. Weeds steal essential nutrients and sunlight from the grasses. In areas where overgrazing decreases the grasses’ ability to compete with weeds, the weeds also can overtake large areas of pasture, thereby reducing the quality of forage available for livestock.
As fall approaches, pull out the pasture map and again note bare or thin areas. Fall is the best time of year to overseed in the Southeast. Overseeding can be done by drilling an appropriate forage mix into problem areas. Before drilling, mow the pasture to a height of three to four inches to reduce competition from the existing stand of grass and drill seed at 1/4 to ½ inch deep. When looking for the best seed to plant, contact your local Southern States store.
If you have questions about the grasses or weeds in your pasture, need advice on the best forages to plant or want help conducting soil samples of your pasture, visit your local Southern States store today.