The high cost of fuel and animal feed make it more important than ever to get all you can out of your pasture.
How do you start to improve your pasture? Take a pasture assessment — what species of grass and legumes are growing? What we currently have growing in our pastures matches our soil type, drainage, and most important, our management or lack thereof.
Certain plant species, broomsedge for example, may indicate low soil pH. Maintaining a soil pH of 6.0-6.5 is arguably one of the most important pasture management tools. Soil pH can be adjusted with the application of agriculture liming materials.
The only accurate way of determining the quantity of lime and other nutrients needed for the pasture is to conduct a soil test. The Ohio State University County Extension offices can provide soil test kits and can interpret the analysis.
After we have created a good medium for grass growth, we evaluate our grazing management. What is the grazing management like on your pasture? Is it grazed to approximately 3 inches t 4 inches, and then rested so the pasture may regrow to 8 inches to 10 inches tall?
Continuously grazing the same area with no resting of the pasture weakens plants and favors certain forage species.
New leaves grow at the expense of the energy stores in roots or at the base of the plant. Roots grow and store energy captured by grass leaves. Therefore, if grazing is not controlled, plants may not have enough time to rebuild their energy reserves.
Rotational grazing is subdividing the pasture, controlling how closely animals graze and then removing them so the pasture may regrow.
When comparing pasture with no livestock rotation to rotational grazing, consider the following facts: Animals that are set-stocked and not rotated are only able to use a portion of what grows on the pasture. The reason is for each additional day an animal spends in the same area, the more trampling, urinating and defecating occurs on the pasture and thus waste of forage.
In contrast, a pasture system designed to have a minimum of a three-day rotation of animals may provide 30-40 percent more forage. Rotational grazing reduces purchased feed cost by making better use of existing pasture resources, builds plant root systems, reduces weed competition and reduces soil and water run-off.
Developing a pasture system is not cheap and is accomplished through the use of electrified interior cross-fencing and good water distribution. I would suggest livestock owners wanting to make some pasture improvement attend a Pasture for Profit workshop.
Ohio State University Extension, Soil and Water Conservation, and Natural Resources Conservation Service work as a team to offer these grazing schools. These programs are held annually at various locations.
Most important, before developing a grazing system, look at a variety of systems. Think about your yearly management and movement of animals around your farm. Are you in control of your pasture or are your animals?
The cost of farming and feeding animals will remain high; get the most out of your pasture by rotationally grazing.