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It's time to review grazing practices

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Extension Service offers seasonal recommendations

By David Harrison

As we get ready to begin a new year, it is good to review our livestock and grazing management practices. Let’s consider some things for each month of 2010 as you attempt to feed cattle through grazing as much as possible this year. Let’s begin with January, a month not suitable for grazing.

January: Usually a period that requires that hay or stored feed supply some or all of livestock nutrition. Stockpiled fescue can be useful forage but quality and quantity will be declining. Anticipate the coming calving of the spring-calving cowherd by raising the quality and amount of hay fed.

February to April: Fertilize for earliest possible green-up on some fields by applying nitrogen in early spring to cool season grass fields, ryegrass or small grains. Expect to get on these pastures seven to 14 days earlier than traditional turn out time, depending on the year. Fields that face south, that are better drained, and that do not have excessive growth of forage will warm up first and will start growing first.

April to Mid June: This period is the time of maximum growth rates that will often require harvesting of excess as stored feed. Rotate pastures quickly and don’t try to utilize large percentages of the forage in any given pasture, or forage growth will get too far ahead on more paddocks than necessary.  Consider leader/follower systems to maximize the animal gains and also to raise the utilization levels of pastures.  Harvest excess growth on time, based on stage of maturity, to produce high quality hay or haylage and to allow for larger amounts of regrowth.

Mid June to Mid August: Growth during this period slows down greatly. Extend the length of time that pasture fields are rested and begin to leave more residual leaf area for cool season grasses. Warm season grasses (annuals and perennials), deep-rooted legumes such as alfalfa, lespedeza, or red clover, can be very useful during this time to rest cool season grass pastures and also to provide a break from the endophyte of infected tall fescue. Fall forage crops like turnips and small grains can be planted in late summer to provide for more fall and winter grazing. During this time, identify fields of tall fescue that will be stockpiled (animals removed and fertilized with nitrogen) for extended grazing into the fall and winter.

Mid August through September: Pasture growth during this period is dependent on moisture and temperature. With adequate moisture, considerable growth can be expected from cool-season species as warm season species begin their decline. Make new seedings early for best results.

October: Continue to graze clover hay fields, and plan to graze orchardgrass based pastures before fall rains make them decline in quality and available forage. If late-summer seeded turnips or small grains have enough growth, turn into these as well. Strip-graze or limit access to forage crops at this time since regrowth is usually low.

November and December: Alfalfa fields can be grazed down at this time if the ground will support hoof traffic. Bloat is a possibility on lush or freshly frosted legumes and make sure animals are full of hay before turnout. Utilize early planted ryegrass or small grains if growth permits. Utilize stockpiled tall fescue to save hay. Strip-graze to minimize trampling and waste and consider keeping animals off some fields during very wet weather. Continue to use any small grain pastures as their growth permits.

If you want to know more about grazing and other areas of livestock management, drop by the Extension Service for printed information or attend Extension educational meetings.