Grazing time is coming back with spring’s arrival on cool season perennial pastures around Arkansas, but before dispatching the cattle to the pasture, producers should make some preparations.
“Don’t stock too quickly if soils are wet and boggy from winter moisture to prevent damage to the grass sod,” said Dirk Philipp, associate professor of animal science at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Add fertilizer based on previous years’ experience or soil test results. Producers who want a soil test through their county extension office should indicate their management practices on the soil box so the lab can make informed recommendations.
“If other soil nutrients such as phosphorous or potassium are limited, fescue pastures will not perform as intended with the required amounts of nitrogen applied,” he said.
The level of fertilization for fescue depends on whether a producer plans only to graze or whether to also include haying.
Application of 60 pounds per acre of nitrogen should be sufficient for grazing, Philipp said. The higher the application rate, the more likely forage will have to be harvested for hay. For best animal performance, Philipp advised producers to harvest hay no later than boot stage. Many farmers will go for tonnage, but nutritive value declines with increased age of forage.
For productive grazing, producers should wait until the fescue – now at about 4 to 5 inches high – reaches 6 to 8 inches canopy height before stocking animals. Philipp cautioned against waiting much longer because fescue grows fast and seed heads are placed where the endophyte and toxins will accumulate. Canopy heights should be kept between 3 and 6 inches during grazing cycles.
“Keep fescue in reproductive stages as long as possible,” Philipp said. “This will also alleviate somewhat the toxic effects of the alkaloids put out by the endophyte.” Novel endophyte tall fescue is somewhat more sensitive to close grazing, so canopy heights should be monitored.
Producers may use either rotational or continuous stocking methods if the fescue’s canopy height is managed accordingly.
Philipp said producers should monitor cattle for fescue toxicosis during spring grazing. If symptoms occur repeatedly over the years then they should consider gradually switching to novel endophyte tall fescue or overseeding with broadleaf forages if possible.