Consider your grazing management

I have written in the past about dealing with forage quality when it is raining every day and when we have been short on rain for extended periods of time. It seems like this year many of us are falling in the “raining every day since hay season started” end of the spectrum.

Quality vs. quantity

While this may lead to increased tonnage of hay when it is finally made, the quality may be another issue.

Pulling a sample from each “batch” of hay that is significantly different this year will definitely help you in deciding when to feed that particular hay, based on the nutrition it can provide, and to what type of animals this coming winter.

The overmature hay may be fine for maintenance of brood cows, but may come up short if you are planning on feeding it to growing heifers or animals in peak production. Managing pastures this year has not been a picnic for the beginners either.

Forage decisions. Judging how much forage is going to be in the next several paddocks is an art as much as a science.

By careful observation of the forages and of your livestock as you make the decision to hold them in the current paddock for another few hours or to move them a little sooner than planned, the art of managing will get easier.

By careful observation of what is left in the field you are moving from, and how quickly it bounces back, your future decisions will be based more and more on science and less on guess work.

Pay attention to areas that have become trampled to the point of having little or no forage cover and plan now on whether or not it will recover on its own or will need to be helped along by over seeding or reseeding it this fall.

This is also a good time to take note of the weeds that you have present in your pastures and to plan when to clip if necessary for weed control.

Clipping

Remember that clipping should have a purpose. Clipping the paddocks prior to seed production of the weeds helps to accomplish weed control, may improve the aesthetics, and may also allow you to harvest some areas for hay that have not been grazed to their potential.

Once our grasses go to seed, they will not grow much until they are grazed or mowed off, so clipping may also stimulate growth in a field that has become mature.

Consider staggering your mowing schedule. If we want to have good growth for the rest of the summer and going into fall and winter we need to work on getting the forage plants back into a vegetative state now.

Schedule

Clipping or harvesting a portion of the pasture on a schedule similar to a grazing schedule will help with the rotational grazing throughout the rest of the summer. Rather than having all of the grass at the same stage of maturity, a staggered mowing schedule will keep the grass growth at different stages.

We are approaching the time that we need to slow down our rotation to allow for longer rest periods between grazing events. While 10 to 18 days of rest between grazing times is adequate in the early spring, we need to allow most of our forages 28 to 42 days rest during the hot dry summer months.

Keeping the grazing periods short so that the animals do not regraze the same plant in a given field during each rotation will also improve the overall quantity and quality of the forage over time.

Keep moving

Moving the animals to the next field when there is still a minimum of 3 to 4 inches of growth on the plant will allow the plants to recover much quicker than if they are allowed to graze it into the ground.

With most areas getting a break in the weather to get some or all of your hay harvested, it is now time to consider if some of those hay fields can be added to the grazing rotation for the summer.

By grazing additional fields now you will let the animals spread the manure, while saving the harvesting costs. Additional land brought into the system now will also allow for stockpiling of forages in your drier fields for deferred grazing into the fall and winter.

Select some areas now that you can use to set aside from mid to late July through late fall. Continue grazing the other available areas as needed.

The growth that you accumulate on the set aside fields is often of higher quality than the hay that you make from the same fields up through mid winter.

Stockpile forage

When you turn the animals into the stockpiled forage, control the amount that they have access to at any one time. You would not turn animals directly into a bunker silo without expecting them to waste a great portion of the silage.

We should treat our stockpiled forages as stored feed that is too valuable to waste. Allow them access to only a few days feed at a time and they will not soil and trample nearly as much as if they have access to the entire field.

With proper planning and management most farms can get through December, January and perhaps most of February on stockpiled forage before they need to think about feeding hay.

As your system develops winter-feeding days are determined more by the soil conditions such as mud than by the amount of feed that is available.

Economics

The economics of letting the cows do the harvesting and the manure spreading becomes apparent if you figure the hours spent on the tractor doing it for them. The management decisions that you make regarding your forages during the next few weeks will determine the quantity and quality of forages that your livestock will have for the rest of year.

Don’t let the frustration of a few rainy days discourage you from improving your grazing management.

About the Author

The author is an area grassland conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, located in the Licking County field office in Newark, Ohio; 740-670-5236. More Stories by Patty Dyer

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