Time to wind down 2012 and start planning for grazing pastures in 2013

As we wind down the 2012 year, it is time to assess what worked for us and what we can improve on for next year.
The drought really put many of us in a bind this year, but what can we do to minimize problems for next year if we continue to have weather extremes?

Water sources

Water was a major issue for many of us. If you have a good well or public water, you are fortunate when the weather is dry.

For some, water options may be limited to streams, springs or ponds. Do you have options for more water?
Do you have some springs that have not been developed or some old ones that need to be re-built? That could provide more water, but I am more convinced that a pond is the best option if you do not have a good well or public water.

We had a field day in August at the Ponchak Family farm in Morgan County and we saw several ponds with pumps, buried water lines and hydrants that allowed water to be provided throughout the fields and temporary fence was used to control grazing within the fields.

Forage

How was forage utilization this year? Did you maximize available forages? If you did not, I encourage you to consider adding paddocks. This may be as simple as putting up a strand of electric fence in a pasture and dividing it in half or moving a strand every day or two to improve utilization and allow extra rest time for the field.

Even if you have just a few head of livestock, one field and one source of water, there is a good chance you can divide that field in two.

If you can, you will start to see better utilization, better re-growth and more desirable forages growing. Just imagine what eight or more paddocks could do!

Diversify livestock?

Prices for livestock have been very good the past several years. It has provided an incentive to get rid of our problem animals. This also is a good time to expand our flocks and herds.

Management intensive grazing can allow us to increase stocking rates and improve pounds we produce per acre. Have you considered adding another class of livestock on your farm? If you have a cow-calf operation, could you add some stockers?

If you have the fence can you raise both cattle and sheep? They do an excellent job complimenting each other as sheep are browsers and cattle are grazers. It can go a long ways to reducing problem weed issues some of us face.

What is the shape of our pastures? As Rory Lewandowski pointed out in this column earlier this month, many are in poor shape. Will they need to be reseeded? Maybe a frost seeding can do the job, but now is the time to evaluate the fields and order seed to apply in February. Soil test your fields to see if the need lime and fertilizer.

Reseeding

If you do reseed, purchase only high quality seed with improved genetics that yield more, persist longer, and are insect and disease resistant. This will be an investment that will pay many times over.

As the year comes to a close, it is also time to check your profits and losses for the year. Would it be to your financial advantage to pre-purchase some fertilizer for next year? How about any fencing material that you can use or even mineral for your livestock? You still have a chance to impact your bottom line for the year.

Winter feed

Finally, do you have enough feed for the winter? The only options left besides buying feed or selling animals are grazing corn residue like Rory mentioned or possibly grazing a hayfield.

Grass or grass legume fields work best. I get nervous when some want to graze alfalfa this time of year, especially younger stands.  Overgrazing, pugging of the soil and the possibility of heaving during the winter are major concerns for me. With the cost of establishment so high and the potential of the stand lasting many years, I would avoid it at this time of the year.

We all hope next year will be better than the last, but if we are prepared when it is not, we will be much better off.

About the Author

Chris Penrose is an OSU Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources and 4-H Youth Development in Morgan County. More Stories by Chris Penrose

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