Grazing management has certainly been an interesting challenge this year. Who would have dreamed during last year’s dry weather that nearly everyone reading this article would see record-breaking or near record-breaking rainfall in April this year?
Many operators have found that by rotating faster than usual that they have been able to utilize the rapidly growing forage without destroying the sod.
Others have found the need to limit the areas that are being grazed to the drier fields.
Some have learned, after the fact, that their fields would not support the number of head and length of grazing that the animals were allowed to graze.
Regardless of which situation fits your farm, we all know that we need to observe each field carefully before and after it is grazed and continually adjust our management of each field as the weather changes. There have been few instances that have tested a farmer’s patience and management skills more than the weather this year.
Those challenges are not over as we are just approaching hay-making season and most forages are going to be mature long before the field is dry enough for hay making to begin.
This may be a year to explore the option of making haylage if you can find a neighbor who has the equipment and time to custom wrap your hay.
As the pressure increases to clip pastures and complete the many other tasks that have been delayed due to the weather, remember to think about safety. While it is tempting to work longer hours and try to speed up many operations, it is not worth the risk of your health and safety.
Remember that pastures should only be clipped to accomplish a management objective. Clipping for weed control and to stagger the stage of growth are often necessary.
Clipping for aesthetic reasons or after the weeds have gone to seed, offer little economic advantage and in reality may be a very costly operation that can be skipped for now.
In addition to the wear and tear on the equipment and operator, clipping requires fuel and time. Schedule your clipping operations as soon after the livestock are rotated out of a field as possible if the field needs clipped. This will allow you to mow the plants that the livestock did not eat while not affecting the plants that have just been grazed.
Weeds. Doing this once or twice a year just prior to weeds going to seed will eliminate a large percentage of the weeds in a field. Mowing more often offers little benefit in most situations.
The height of the clipping operation has also been an item of conversation at many recent pasture walks.
Think about why you are clipping. If it is to eliminate the plants and weeds that the livestock are not eating, then clip as close to the height of the recently grazed forage as possible. This will give the plants just grazed an opportunity to compete for light and they would not have if the ungrazed plants are left taller so that they are shading out the grazed plants.
When the clipping operation is primarily to stagger the maturity of the plants to benefit the rotation, then a higher mowing height may be appropriate so that the seed heads are removed but the majority of the foliage is left intact.
Another option to stagger the maturity is to pull one or more fields out of the rotation and harvest it for hay. Add it back into the rotation as the growth of the forages slows down throughout the summer.
Consider pulling another field out of the rotation in the fall when the growth rate increases again and stockpile the forage in that field for late fall and winter grazing.
Consider attending local pasture walks whenever possible to share your experiences with your neighbors and friends. Most farmers agree that what they learn and share at these events are well worth the time invested in attending.