1. “The first step in improving grass production is assessing current pasture condition,” he says. Start by determining the level of ‘decreaser’ grass species, such as green needlegrass, bluebunch wheatgrass and little bluestem. “These are typically more desirable, tall grasses that can decline under excessive grazing pressure.” For optimal cattle production, having at least 76 percent decreaser plant species in the pasture is considered excellent condition.
2. Manage grazing. For example, under favorable grazing conditions, it may only take three acres to feed one cow per month. However, when pasture condition is poor, each cow could need 15 acres. Under this same scenario, a 100-head herd could be maintained on 900 acres over three summer months. That number jumps to 4,500 acres for three months when pasture conditions are poor. Managing grazing pressure involves several steps:
- Maintain the appropriate stocking rate. Determine the right number of cattle to keep your pasture in good to excellent condition. Local university extension educators are a good source of information for appropriate stocking rates in any given area.
- Monitor grazing. When grass has been grazed down 50 percent, it’s time to move the cattle to another pasture and let that pasture recover.
- Record pasture condition over time. One way to do this is to drive a steel post into the ground, then take photos each year in all four directions away from the post. Compare the photos to see if you’re starting to see encroachment or establishment of weeds or other undesirable plants and brush.
- Modify grazing patterns. If there are areas where cows aren’t grazing, encourage them to use those spots by placing mineral blocks or water tanks in those areas, if possible.
- Adjust the stocking rate as needed. If your pasture needs recovery time, you may need to lease additional pasture land or reduce cattle numbers.
3. Control pests. Research has shown that weed-control programs can provide good return on investment in a fairly short period of time. DuPont Crop Protection offers several herbicides for pasture and rangeland, including three DuPont™ Cimarron® herbicides, which control tough weeds and brush, are safe to grasses, and carry no grazing restrictions for non-lactating animals. DuPont™ Pastora® herbicide, introduced in early 2010, controls sandbur, johnsongrass and other hard-to-control weeds on bermudagrass pastures and hay meadows and has no grazing restrictions.
Alford reminds producers not to forget about other pests that inhibit pasture improvement. “Identify any rodents, insects or other problems that may be holding back grass production, then work with your supplier to identify products available for control. Follow proper application rates, procedures and timing to achieve maximum benefits.”