COLUMN: Fundamentals of pasture management

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By David Harrison

 Spring provides a good opportunity to assess pastures and create a working plan that is economical and increases the fertility of the land. Good pasture management enables livestock to graze on pasture for more days of the year. To increase days on pasture, farmers should first implement a rotational grazing system to allow pastures time to recover. Having two or more pastures and rotating stock back and forth increases the fertility of the soil by allowing the empty pasture to replenish itself.

Forage farmers should consider the following on their pasture management:

1.) Good planting practices. Establish strong stands of forage, using high quality seed of proven varieties and timely planting.

2.) Soil test. Inexpensive soil tests results and recommendations advise how to best use lime, phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. This improves yield, quality, and stand life, and it also reduces weed problems.

3.) Nutritional needs. Cattle, horses and goats each have different nutritional needs. These variations are further impacted by the age and use of the animal. Weight gain, lactation, and late term pregnancy require pasture with high levels of nutrients. Match the pasture to the animals’ requirements.

4.) Stocking rates. Grazing the right number of animals is extremely important to short- and long-term grazing success.

5.) Pasture alternatives. Consider grazing animals on crop residues (corn, soybean), dormant alfalfa, hayfields, and even turnips.

6.) Legumes. Use legumes as much as possible. Examine each field individually, assessing its potential for legumes, either as a new planting, renovation, or enhancement planting.

7.) Reduced use of stored hay. Farm efficiency can be measured through use of stored hay. This expensive input should be as low as possible, indicating strong forage management. Additionally, farmers should reduce waste of stored hay, silage, and concentrates.

8.) Invest time. Your investment of time and care is necessary for a grazing program to be successful.