To promote a healthier pasture next spring, producers should start planning for the end of the season and help their plants prepare for fall, which is an important time for pasture management, says Rory Lewandowski, agriculture and natural resources educator for Ohio State University Extension.
“Producers need to start thinking about what these plants are doing to get ready for the end of the season and should match their grazing practice with what the plant is trying to accomplish, which is to build up root reserves,” Lewandowski says. He adds that while pasture growth improved in many areas this year, ranchers need to keep drought in mind and protect pastures from overgrazing. During autumn, particularly in September and October, pastures must be managed so that grass and legume plants are able to build up and store carbohydrate reserves for the winter period, which keeps a root system living over the winter months, he says. While the leaf tissue dies during the winter, the buds and roots of the plant remain as living tissues over the winter and continue to respire and burn energy. “But if the root reserves are insufficient, the plant may die over the winter,” he says. “And if the plant survives but root reserves are low, spring re-growth and vigor of the plant are reduced. In order to build up carbohydrate reserves, there must be adequate leaf area so that the plant can maximize the photosynthetic process.”
To avoid overgrazing in the fall, Lewandowski offers these recommendations:
• For orchardgrass, graze the pastures to no lower than 4 to 5 inches.
• For tall fescue and bluegrass pastures, leave a 3- to 4-inch residual.
Leaving more residual growth also helps conserve soil moisture to promote re-growth in the spring. “Overall, it’s really about keeping enough leaf area on the plant so producers get quicker green-up in the spring and better, more vigorous spring plant growth in the long run,” Lewandowski says.