You know the view: picture-perfect pastures that run as far as the eyes can, clashing with pale blue skies and forest green trees upon the horizon; the stunning view that is rural America. But having pretty pastures isn’t just about the breathtaking view. To producers, it’s a vital part of their livestock or horse management program, as it is often the primary source of feed for these animals.
As the summer season heats up, the growth rate of ryegrass and clover begins to slow due to hotter conditions. With proper maintenance you can help reduce the need for supplemental feeding, which can ultimately save on the bottom line. Poorly managed pastures can produce low yields of poor quality forage and may even harbor parasites that could infiltrate your precious livestock. The implementation of some tried and true management practices can instantly improve your pasture.
Solidify your soil
When spring time rolls around, we should always fertilize, right? Wrong. The improper application of fertilizer is one of the most common mistakes made that can waste time, money, and your soil’s precious nutrients. This is why having a soil test conducted is so important to not only the health and quality of your soil, but also to your bottom line profit. A soil test is an environmentally sound practice that will show pH levels of the soil and indicate if application of lime or fertilizer is needed. The proper application of lime and fertilizer could—combined with other pasture management strategies—double the yield of a worn out pasture. It’s a relatively inexpensive practice, and the money you spend on a soil test can ultimately save you money on fertilizer and ensure that your land is packed with the proper amount of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. You can obtain soil tests from your local Southern States dealer or local Extension office.
Rotation, rotation, rotation
If you can help it, you never want your grass to be grazed shorter than two-to-three inches. If livestock are penned up in the same field or paddock for the entire grazing season, there’s a good chance that the plants will be grazed too short, causing damage and allowing weeds to take charge. You’re able to somewhat dictate how evenly your grass is grazed by rotating your grazing areas. Divide your pastures into smaller fields and rotate them in when forage is around six inches high, and rotate them out as grass plants begin to approach the two-to-three inch threshold. This also promotes forage growth and can even break the life cycle of pesky parasites.
You may find that your livestock prefer a certain area in the fields, avoiding some areas altogether. Like us humans, livestock will not eat what they don’t prefer. Horses, especially, are renowned for “spot grazing,” where they’ll graze on small, choice areas while surrounding areas remain untouched. If this happens, you may find areas of long growth with seed heads that your livestock have left behind. Consider clipping these areas to a height of around two inches. Clipping two or three times a year helps provide uniform grazing, helps control weeds, and prevents grasses from going to seed. If time and cost of tractor fuel should be a concern, move smaller animals (such as sheep) into these areas to do the job for you. The key is to not allow your forage to be grazed too short.
Choose the right seed
Be sure to choose a forage grass-seed blend that is formulated to grow well in your region of the country and will thrive in the soil conditions in your pasture. According to Southern States experts, you should choose a certified seed or proprietary variety that will tolerate grazing and is adapted for your climatic conditions.
Cool-season grasses, like fescue, flourish in northern regions of the country and are the common choice among those north of I-64. Warm-season grasses such as Bermuda grass grow well in the south. According to North Carolina Extension experts, a combination of cool and warm-season grasses established in separate stands in a pasture system will provide a more even supply of forage and lengthen the grazing season. An ideal pasture system would include 50 to 75 percent cool-season forages with the remaining balance being warm-season grasses.
Timing is everything in life, especially when it comes to planting. The best times to plant cool-season grasses are typically in the early spring or late summer, but again, this depends on your location. Knowing your region’s weather patterns and typical climatic conditions is extremely important. Spring-planted cool-season grasses typically have more issues with weeds, but it’s an ideal time of year to plant because of the increased rainfall. Cool-season grasses planted in late summer will experience less weed problems, but adequate moisture—due to less rainfall—may be more of an issue.
Remember to plant spring-planted cool-season grasses early enough to allow root systems to establish themselves before the heat of summer arrives. If planting in late summer, plant early enough to allow seedlings sufficient time to grow before the first average killing frost in the fall—about 4-to-6 weeks prior.
Warm-season grasses should be planted in the late spring or early summer when soil temperatures reach 65 degrees or average nighttime temperatures are around 60 degrees.
Efficiency = Effectiveness
Being proactive and efficient in your pasture management practices is the key to maintaining quality pasture. Good management practices—in all areas of your operation—will ultimately lead to success and increased profitability. Speak to your local Southern States representative about creating an effective plan for managing pasture around your farm.
Southern States Cooperative has grown to become one of the nation’s largest farm supply companies. With over 1,200 retail outlets spread across 23 states, they provide a wide range of farm and home supplies, including livestock feed, fertilizer, seed, animal health supplies and petroleum products. Farmer-owned since 1923, the Virginia-based cooperative has more than 200,000 farmer-members. For more information, visit www.southernstates.com.