Iowa StateUniversity forage specialist Steve Barnhart and livestock specialist Dan Morrical offer these tips for getting more from your pastures.

  • Assess your pasture resources. Evaluate whether your grasses and legumes are suited for production when you need them, and consider strategies to make up for seasonal deficits.
  • Use nitrogen fertilizer to boost production. With high nitrogen costs many feel that pasture fertilization is too expensive, but the extra dry matter produced costs less than $50 per ton, which is very cheap feed in today’s economy.
  • Don’t guess – soil test! With fertilizer costs rising, you want to apply the soil nutrients you actually need for forage growth response, but no more.
  • Add lime to your pasture. Grasses grow optimally at pH ranges of 6.0 to 7.0. Legumes grow best at pH ranges of 6.5 to 7.0. Use the soil test for lime rate recommendations.
  • Consider adding legumes. Legumes such as clovers or alfalfa improve pasture nutritive value, distribution of growth during the summer months and provide nitrogen to grasses. Legumes can be added to existing pasture sods by   frostseeding in late winter or interseeding in the spring.
  • Start rotational grazing. Compared with a continuously and abusively grazed pasture, implementing grazing management along with fertility and other pasture management practices can increase productivity by 25 to 50 percent in the first year and up to 100 percent by year three.
  • Control weeds. Where weeds are a problem, herbicide treatments used in conjunction with improved fertility and grazing management can improve production significantly.  
  • Stretch limited pasture. When grass availability is limited stretch supplies by supplemental feeding with grain, hay or distillers’ grains. In a persistent drought, consider placing cows in a drylot, early weaning and reducing stocking rates.
  • Appropriate turn out dates. Allowing plants a chance to grow before turn out can greatly improve carrying capacity. Tall cool-season grasses should be at least four inches tall and preferably six before grazing. Blue grass should be a minimum of two inches. Rest pastures in the fall to allow root reserves to recover before winter dormancy.
  • Start over with a new seeding. Starting over allows major changes, but is costly and can take several years to achieve full productivity.