Some Pasture Management Do's and Don'ts

By Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County and published in the Ohio State University Extension Beef Team Newsletter, Issue #590. To this point, (end of May) the 2008 growing season has been good for the cool season forages that make up the vast majority of our pasture acreage.
calendar icon 13 June 2008
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However, barring a very unusual year, we can expect that June and July will bring us stretches of dry weather and hot temperatures. Growth rates of cool season grass pastures will decline. Getting the most out of your pasture demands management, especially as growth rates decline.

Here are some management dos and don'ts to consider as we enter the summer months:

  • Don't ignore the seed heads that have accumulated in your pasture paddocks. A plant in reproductive growth producing seeds is not putting energy into leafy growth or producing tillers to fill in thin spots in the pasture sod.

  • Do clip seed heads from pasture grasses, allowing the plant to go back into vegetative growth that will result in more total forage being produced over the course of the growing season.

  • Don't ignore uneven grazing patterns in your pasture paddocks. This indicates that selective grazing is occurring, allowing some plants to be overgrazed while others are becoming too mature. In this situation, forage utilization is being compromised.

  • Do consider adding more pasture divisions, more paddocks to your pasture system when uneven grazing patterns are noticed. This means you will be grazing your cattle on smaller areas, increasing the stocking density. This will reduce the amount of selective grazing that occurs. Forage utilization will increase, manure distribution will be more uniform and pasture clipping can be reduced. All positives given the high cost of forages, fertilizer and fuel.

  • Don't ignore the take half leave half principle. If this rule is violated and pastures are grazed down too low, the result is that plant root growth stops, and plant root reserves may be used to re-grow leaf tissue, diminishing the vigor of the plant root system. In addition, when adequate leaf cover is not maintained, the sun is able to penetrate to the soil surface, increasing the soil temperature and moisture evaporation from the soil. This will result in reduced plant growth.

  • Do pay attention to when it is time to move the cows to a new paddock, and do provide adequate rest periods to allow a paddock to recover to proper grazing height before allowing cattle to make another grazing pass. As we get in to drier and hotter weather, grass growth rates will slow down. Rotation speed between paddocks will also have to slow down to provide the plants with a longer rest or recovery period. Consider the following charts as a guide:
Pure or Dominant Grass Pastures
Species Pre-graze Height, IN Post-graze Height, OUT
Perennial Ryegrass 6-7 inches 3 inches
Orchardgrass 8-10 inches 3-4 inches
Tall Fescue (Endophyte infected) 5-6 inches 1-2 inches
Tall Fescue (Endophyte free) 8-10 inches 3-4 inches

Grass/Legume Pastures (30% or greater legume)
Species Pre-graze Height, IN Post-graze Height. OUT
Orchardgrass/white clover 6-8 inches 2-3 inches
Tall Fescue/white clover 5-7 inches 2-3 inches
Grass/red clover 7-8 inches 2-3 inches
  • Do take some time to look ahead to the summer months and have a plan for slower cool season growth rates. Will you be able to feed hay and hold cattle in a sacrifice area if grass growth stops? Can you manage your pasture rotations to slow them down and give plants an opportunity to re-grow to a proper grazing height? If you think forage will be tight, can you plant a summer annual forage like sudangrass or a sorghum x sudangrass hybrid? If so, this should be planted before mid-June.

  • Finally, don't ignore the economics of management decisions. Do take the time to analyze costs and benefits. If you can't take advantage of the extra forage and increase in quality that is produced by clipping pasture paddocks or by putting in more pasture divisions, then these may not be good decisions.

June 2008

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