Extension expert: Grass not yet ready for grazing

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - While the calendar may say it is officially spring, the weather outside in many areas may not necessarily agree. As a result, producers may want to hold off grazing for a week or so longer than in a typical year, which could help pastures build up the roots to allow for a more productive grazing season, an Ohio State University Extension expert said.

This time last year, Ohio was at least two weeks ahead of normal in terms of pasture growth, thanks to the warmer, milder winter and early spring experienced in many areas, said Chris Penrose, an OSU Extension educator. But the colder, wetter weather this year has left growth weeks behind normal, leaving grass that is not ready for grazing, he said.

"This extra period of wet weather is causing a problem because of the extra mud and not allowing time for pastures to dry out," Penrose said. "For example, grass is just starting to grow in southeast Ohio and is probably not ready to graze.

"If we can hold off grazing for a week or two longer than in most years, I think we will be better off in the long run because we simply have not had enough heat to get things going."

The issue is of even more concern this year considering that the drought of 2012 left many producers with scarce hay and challenges meeting the forage needs of their cattle, he said.

"So now a lot of our producers are short of forages and there may be more temptation to go out now," Penrose said. "Some producers may be getting to the point where they feel like they have no choice but to start grazing in many parts of the state because of the tight hay supplies.

"And now that the growing season has been pushed back a couple of weeks, it could make it more of an issue. But if we go out too soon, we could do more damage that would normally occur in a typical year."

The issue stems from drought-weakened plants, that if are allowed to be grazed on in the first growth, could cause further weakening of the plant or even kill it off completely, he said.

"Right now, if possible, try to keep cattle in the same area so that we don't tear up new ground," Penrose said.

This is especially important considering that the National Weather Service forecasts a cooler than normal weather pattern will return in early April, with the outlook to include below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation, Penrose said.     

"Once things start warming up we may have to smooth out the ground and re-seed the areas that suffered the most damage," he said. "If possible, try to feed stored feed for a week or two longer to avoid additional damage to the forages and soil and to allow new growth to commence in order to start putting some reserves back into the roots.

"This will help you have more forage production in the long run."



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