Steps to keep in mind when managing hay and pasture for this upcoming winter


By Adam Shepard

With the calendar turning to the month of September it seems like the appropriate time to talk about fall and winter management of forage and pasture fields. In terms of the seasons, fall is widely considered one of the most important seasons when it comes to making sound agronomic decisions to set your operation up for a good forage season.


Often times the thought we spend the most time on in the fall is whether we can squeeze one more cutting out before frost. When considering this thought it’s always important to remember the calendar and your historic weather information to determine the potential date of the first frost.

With shorter days and cooler temperatures, the amount of time it takes to cure a cutting and the time it takes for the crop to rejuvenate before the temperature reaches that first killing frost should be considered.

A 2008 article from Michigan State University Extension (Min and Leep) does a nice job breaking down a couple main concepts that can set your operation up for a nice stand next spring.

Soil Fertility and pH:

Fall is a great time to collect soil test data and make management decisions to replenish those nutrients you have removed over the course of the growing season. Another valuable piece of soil test data that can make your crop more productive is keeping the pH of the soil in the appropriate level for the mixture of crop you have. Keeping pH in a manageable range will not only make those applied nutrients more available for uptake, but also the liming requirements are in smaller quantities. The production potential from the field or pasture will also remain more consistent.

Understand your situation: By having a strong knowledge of the forage mixes you are growing you can be a better manager.

Different species require different stages of growth for proper overwintering. While it may be very tempting to take that 4th cutting late in the season, depending on the species of forages you are growing, that 4th cutting may end up costing you production next spring. Alfalfa for example needs to be cut early enough in the fall that the plant has adequate time to replenish carbohydrates and proteins or late enough in order to keep the plant less than or equal to 8 inches before the first killing frost.

By building that understanding of your crops you can make management decisions that will not only improve the quality of your stand but also help to maximize production in the spring and reduce the stresses of overwintering.

Management of pastures:

While grazing pastures seems to be simple task, it still requires some thought. As mentioned in the section above proper growth and carbohydrate storage needs to occur for the plant to properly overwinter. By not removing the livestock at the appropriate time our window for root storage and plant growth could not be long enough for the plant to overwinter leading to reduced stands in the spring. Proper scouting and stand evaluation should also be taken into consideration because this decision could affect how and when you finish grazing.

By taking these steps and considering this information you are giving your crop the best opportunity to survive the winter and maximize production and stand quality in the spring. Additional information can be found at or contacting your local Extension Office.

(Adam Shepard is an agriculture and natural resources extension educator for The Ohio State University Extension in Fayette County.)


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