Summer grazing is in full swing (but it’s not too early to think winter)

Wow, have you been watching the grass grow?

Once we got some rain and a few warmer days, it seems that the forage plants began racing to see which ones could get the tallest and head out first.

Yes, I said head out.
Almost every pasture field and hay field I have visited in the past few weeks suddenly went from barely growing to being very mature with almost everything forming seed heads.

Clipping fields

What does this mean to farmers with livestock? It means that the surplus forage needs harvested for hay where possible and the rotational grazing system needs adjusted to move through the remaining fields pretty quickly and then probably clipping the fields to remove the seed heads.

I do not encourage “recreational mowing,” but when we need to mow to control weeds or the maturity of the plants, then doing it in a timely manner, will pay great dividends.
The goal is to keep the desired plants in a vegetative state and prevent the weeds from spreading their seeds throughout the field beyond the existing areas.

Stepping up the pasture management to take advantage of this growth spurt will not only put inexpensive pounds on your livestock, but will keep the pastures in a better growing stage throughout the rest of the summer.

Smaller paddocks

Opening and closing gates to get the livestock to eat as much of the forage as possible while they are in the smallest paddocks that you can make right now will allow the livestock to do much of your work for you.
If you can keep the days in a particular field or paddock right now down to about three days or less, the livestock will eat the most desirable plants first, then clean up the rest of the forage available, before being moved to the next paddock.

That gives the desirable plants an advantage on regrowth, with the plants being grazed last being at a slight disadvantage in competing for the light, water and nutrients.
Rotating based on the plant regrowth speed, repeatedly will change the specie composition of your fields without the need to reseed.

Waiting too long to start the rotation or staying too long on one field to force the livestock to “eat it down” right now will mean that other fields will get ahead of the livestock and will get mature before they are grazed.
This will ultimately reduce the potential production of those fields later on in the year.

Move livestock quickly

The best advice right now is to keep the livestock moving through the fields pretty quickly, harvesting the excess growth or just clipping the fields to remove the seed heads and weeds, and then slow the rotation down on the next round or the following round through the fields to clean the available forages up at that time.
The decision on which fields you will make hay on should have already been made this year, whether intentionally or by the fact that you haven’t got it grazed yet.

Think winter

As the weather permits, the first cutting of hay and in some cases the second cutting of hay should be well underway and the decision should be switching to which fields to stockpile for fall and winter grazing.
Consider grazing some of your hay fields later in the summer as there is less available forage.
Do not be afraid to try a little something different than what you have always done. It is not a crime to allow your livestock to work for you. The animals really should work for you in the system you are using.

If your livestock needs lots of special attention or extra feed, maybe it is time to consider culling the more troublesome/less productive animals.

Make livestock work

Your animals need to work in your system, regardless of what their paperwork says.
Consider whether they are working for you or you are working for them. Consider in your system if it is more efficient to harvest the forages that are growing over your fields by the use of animals with four legs or tractors with four or more tires.

What would be the cost of installing some additional single strands electric fence to divide your fields to improve your grazing management versus buying the diesel fuel for your tractor plus the parts and labor for harvesting and feeding the hay? Most of us are still a long way from year ’round grazing, but not really that far from cutting our winter feeding time in half.

Make plans now

Planning now for your summer and fall pasture and hay management can make the difference in how many days you graze versus how many days you feed the animals after you run out of pasture.

If you would like to discuss some ideas or options to change your grazing operation, give me a call at the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Newark at 740-670-5236.

About the Author

The author is an area grassland conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, located in the Licking County field office in Newark, Ohio; 740-670-5236. More Stories by Patty Dyer

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