Gripe, then adjust grazing tactics

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Everyone seems to like to talk about the weather and farmers probably lead the pack in a lot of those discussions.

It is either too dry like last summer, or too wet like this winter, or too cold to get the plants growing, or too hot to have the livestock out in the fields. In reality, it makes for great conversation, but there is not much we can really do about the actual weather we are having.

As a grazier, there is something we can do to adjust to the weather and hopefully improve our management as a result of observing what the weather is doing to our plant growth.

Conditions

If the soil is really wet, we may need to adjust the length of time the livestock is in a given field to protect the plants.

If it is too dry, we may need to adjust the length of time the animals are out of the field to allow the roots to recover and the plants to grow without depleting their root reserves.

If it is too hot, we may need to move more often or move to alternative paddocks that have some shade or a better source of water.

If it is too cold, we may need to add supplemental feed to provide an adequate diet to make up for the slower-growing plants not providing the expected amount of forage.

The weather this spring has also made for some very interesting color patterns across the landscape. I have joked with many farmers about developing a “green scale” to judge forages.

Green scale

If the field is a nice dark green and uniform across the entire field, then fertility and plant health is probably pretty good.

If the field has dark and light green stripes running throughout the field, then either the fertilizer spreader or manure spreader was probably not adjusted as well as it could have been. The light green color also indicates that the plants are not getting enough nutrients to produce up to their potential yields.

If the field is spotted with dark green patches, you are probably seeing where manure was deposited and the nutrients from the manure are meeting the plant needs that the soil in the areas in between the manure piles is not able to do. This is also a good indication that your soil fertility could probably be improved.

Plants can also impact my “green scale,” such as broom sedge, giving a tan cast to the field and telling us that the lime or phosphorus levels probably need attention.

Sometimes, we see particular weed problems, which indicate that the fertility is very high. An example of this might include a long-time winter feeding area where Jimson weed and a few others, which will tolerate the super high fertility, are present.

Maturity level

As we look at the maturity level of many of the grasses this year, we see that the plants in many of the low-fertility fields are already headed out while the neighboring, higher fertility, darker-green forages are still actively growing. This will have a tremendous impact on the quantity and quality of forages harvested for hay this year.

With a wetter than normal May, many of the early hay harvests are being delayed, which will result in plants being more mature and lower quality as first cutting of hay is eventually completed. It will be a trade off in the next few days on whether to gamble on getting the hay dry enough to bale and maybe getting it rained on, or waiting on drier weather with plants getting more mature and of lower quality before mowing.

To share your weather stories or learn from your neighbors, consider participating in an upcoming grazing school or pasture walks.

Pasture walk

For those in the Muskingum County area, there will be a pasture walk at 6:30 p.m. June 24 at Todd Sands’ farm at 3075 Boggs Road in Zanesville, Ohio. We’ll be looking at some of the paddocks that have been developed for his beef cattle, and at some with the potential to be added to his grazing system.

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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