Critical fall pasture maintenance

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Fall can be a colorful season in this part of the country as the leaves begin to change and fall from the trees. Other contributors to the fall colors can also be the goldenrod and ironweed that are nearing several feet tall this time of the year.

It can be easy to avoid maintaining pastures and hay fields in the fall as a lot of producers are harvesting crops or fall calving.

Keep in mind that as the grazing season comes to an end there are plenty of ways that you can still improve your pasture for the following year.

Weed control

Two reasons that pastures can be weedy this time of year is from overstocking or understocking.

Pastures that have been overstocked through the summer have had the desirable plant population overgrazed (less than 4 inches tall) leaving only the tall weeds behind.

Understocking pastures through the summer or not including all fields in your grazing rotation can be an issue when clipping or mowing did not take place.

Fields that have not been grazed by now usually have weeds that are going into seed production. Fall is a good time of year to do a pasture inventory for weeds because they can easily be identified.

However, at this point in the growing season, most weeds have gone to seed production making them more difficult to control. Using herbicide for control is not practical for weeds that are not actively growing.

Consider mowing mature plants in the fall to keep the seed from spreading. While some weeds do emerge in the fall and can be sprayed, producers must consider if spraying will be cost effective and if the herbicide will also terminate desirable plant species.

Soil fertility

Pastures can be some of the most ignored fields when it comes to fertility yet can be the most simple to test. Soil samples should have multiple cores taken and mixed from a field size of 20 acres or less.

Most pastures are smaller than this so one sample can be sent to a lab. If you use email then results are often given in a matter of days.

The reason that fertility in a pasture is so important is because maintaining a soil pH of 6.5 to 7 will help desirable forage plants compete with weeds.

Applying needed lime and fertilizer is very cost effective compared to spraying and reseeding a pasture to improve a forage stand on poor soil. A dry fall can provide an opportunity to spread lime or fertilizer without causing added compaction to the pasture.

Erosion control

Winter tends to be the time when the most erosion is seen in a pasture. For the last few years, we have not had cold enough winters to keep the ground frozen.

We often see animals kept in muddy areas around bale rings and feed troughs as well as gullies formed where equipment is ran across. Taking time this fall to place stone in areas where these problems take place can save soil as well as time.

Winter feeding can be easier when equipment isn’t sinking in the ground and hay rings don’t need to be moved as often. Moving cattle to higher ground before winter can also be a good form of erosion control.

Hay bales can be rolled down a hillside to prevent compaction around hay rings and to put nutrients back onto the field.

Summary

There are many conservation practices that can be implemented during the fall. Soil testing, fertilizer/lime application, and creating heavy use areas are just a few pasture focused actions to keep in mind.

One small change to your pasture might not seem like a big deal but it can have a huge impact on your herd and on the environment.

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