Are your fields tired? Give them a rest

How are your hay and pasture fields doing this summer? There has been so much rain in many areas this year that some may be just finishing up first cutting hay.

I have talked with many farmers this summer that have mentioned their hay yields are down and pastures have not been as productive as they should be considering all the rain we have received.

When discussing this with my co-worker, Mark Mechling, from Muskingum County, he thought it could be a lingering impact from the drought we had last year. The more I have thought about it, the more I think he is right.

Hay and pasture fields were stressed to the limit last year, and when we finally started receiving rain in late July, we were all eager to graze and take off hay in August.

Out of necessity, we simply did not give our fields a chance to rest and build up root reserves. As a result, productivity is down for many that grow forages.

Options

As summer winds down, we have options to improve our forage producing fields for the rest of this year and into next year.

First, if you have not done so, clip your pasture fields. This will accomplish two things. Cutting remaining seed heads off grass will stimulate new growth and encourage increased root development.

Once weeds are clipped, there will be less competition for moisture, sunlight and nutrients. If the weeds are cut prior to seed development, there will be less future weed competition.

Next, we need to control weeds. As mentioned, clipping will help, but in some cases we may need to do more.

As Clif Little, Guernsey County ag educator, has mentioned in previous articles in the Farm & Dairy, spotted knapweed and tall buttercup weeds that can be devastating to pastures and a herbicide may be the only option short of a complete re-seeding.

Once we get our fields back in good shape with all of these recommendations, weed control should become less of an issue.

If you notice a problem weed starting in your pasture, pull it out or spray as soon as possible to keep them from spreading and becoming a worse problem. In some areas, this will need to be done every year.

Soil testing

When was the last time you soil tested? You may have a poor producing field because your p.H. and fertility is too low. You may need to add lime and fertilizer, but a soil test is a very small investment to find out exactly what you need.

I am of the belief that if you get your p.H. up towards neutral, and fertility up to acceptable, you will rarely need to fertilize if you have a good rotational grazing plan. Nutrients can be recycled many times a year through manure and urine.

For hay fields, once you get phosphorus and potassium up to acceptable levels, each ton of hay removed takes about 15 pounds of phosphorus and 53 pounds of potassium, so they will need to be replaced to maintain adequate levels.

Depending on your soil, you may need to lime every few years.

Grazing tips

As our forages try to rebound we need to keep in mind not to graze them too close so new growth can start from the top of the plant and not the roots.

This will keep root development going and strengthen the plants. And yes, to stop them from being tired, we do need to give our plants a rest. A rotational grazing will help plants recover and build roots.

If you have a paddock that is not doing as well, maybe skip it once during a rotation. Late summer and fall is a good time to do this. You can even “stockpile” a field or paddock and not graze it again until fall or even early winter. This will provide additional feed once the forages stop growing.

This works best in predominantly grass pastures and fescue can be grazed well into the winter as it keeps its quality later than other grasses. If the field or paddock is primarily another grass, graze it before the end of the year.

Resting time

For hay fields, a great time to rest them is between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. If you still need hay and the weather is fit, you can make a final harvest after Oct. 15.

If the field is alfalfa, especially a young stand, it needs to be cut early enough so new growth can happen, reducing winter heaving of the plants.

If your fields are looking tired and have been stressed from the weather or our need for forages when they were scarce, we have a chance to bring them back. Proper grazing, timely mowing, improving fertility and a rest should help them improve for the future.

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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