Don’t neglect grazing strategies this summer

beef cattle on pasture

Crops are in and the summer heat is here.

Spring is often noted as a season of transition but I find early summer equally the same from a pasture standpoint.

We watch the cool season grasses rapidly grow in our area during the spring, only to find the summer’s heat slows what seems to be progress.

But, underfoot, these grasses are converting energy from the sun into food energy to start the food chain.

Avoid clipping too low

An important feature to understand about grasses is the growing point is located close to the ground.

Consequently, when mowing and grazing we select our clipping height to always be above the growing point of the plant and leave enough leaf tissue for plant growth to continue.

Compare grass to many broadleaves: in grasses the growing point is located at the base of the plant, but in other broadleaf dicots the growing points are located at the tips of branches and stems.

If you prune the top off basil, new growing points appear from a lower node and new branches arise. Alfalfa also benefits from this.

Clipping grass, but allowing the growing point to remain, allows new leaves to continue pushing out near the base of the plant.

Clipping a growing point, by grazing or mowing, is a major setback in grass productivity.

Know your plants

Some grasses are better suited for hay and some are better suited for pasture. One reason for this is the height of the growing point in each species.

Common pasture type grasses include tall fescue, orchardgrass, Kentucky bluegrass and perennial rye grass because the growing points are lower and can withstand closer clipping by livestock.

These cool season grasses should have three to four inches of residual leaf area for rapid recovery.

In our region, examples of hay types are timothy, smooth bromegrass, reed canary grass and native warm season grasses that may not tolerate frequent close grazing especially if nodes begin to elongate as the day length and temperatures are higher.

White clover (broadleaf legume) fits well into a pasture system because it tolerates closer clipping while red clover is better for hay. These are just a few examples.

Remember your roots

Grass leaves are necessary for healthy roots and healthy roots ensure healthy leaves the following spring.

Leaves are converting sun energy into food (photosynthesis) which is then stored in the roots.

Roots are unseen, but absolutely critical for a healthy pasture and any plant in general because they source water and nutrients from the soil that plants need to grow.

Each year a percentage of the roots must be replaced. Overgrazing prohibits the plant root system from expanding and results in less productive plants.

Keep the growing point alive, ensure continued leaf production, and the roots will grow.

Plan ahead

Some time ago, I came across this quote: “self-control is empathy for your future self.”

Use it as a reminder to take a few minutes now to set yourself up to make successful choices in the future. (Or, a reminder to just walk past the donuts).

I recommend producers use multiple paddocks and manage intensive grazing because I see these as systems that offer graziers choices. And choices allow flexibility when the going gets tough.

Let’s rewrite that as, “Pasture management is empathy for your hay budget.”

True, you are going to hit a bump in the road sometime, but take the time to understand how grasses grow and their optimum uses and best management.

This sets the course for systems, strategies and opportunities. The resources are out there, but it is up to you to make a plan and use them.


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