Flooded pastures: What do I do now?

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LONDON, Ohio – Chances are your basement has finally drained and the puddles outside are starting to dry up, but have your pastures recovered from the recent rains and flooding?
Probably not completely, says Clif Little, an Ohio State Extension grazing specialist.
Little says special steps should be taken now to prevent further damage to the ground or forages in those pastures.
Summer grazing. Pastures that were overgrazed early this summer didn’t fare well during the rains, Little said, noting less plant cover per acre left acreage at risk for erosion.
Graziers who aren’t managing their cattle or sheep on the pastures are also setting themselves up for more headaches.
Moving animals quickly from paddock to paddock will reduce damage caused by foot traffic, Little said. He recommends moving the herd at least every three days, depending on pasture size and forage density.
Sacrifice. Though fall grazing is touchy – fall grazing determines how the plant will overwinter – Little said it’s worth the thought of sacrificing high and dry pastures until lower paddocks drain and get growing again.
“The quickest way to ruin a pasture is to overgraze it going into the winter, so check out your options,” he said.
Little recommends giving paddocks a 30-day rest period, and to offer the herd grain or forage supplements to tide them over.
“That will go a long way to reduce forage consumption daily, and get pastures back where you want them,” he said.
Survival. If your forages looked pretty good until hurricane-spawned rains hit the area, there’s still hope. Even pastures under standing water can be saved.
Little says pasture grasses can survive up to one week in standing water.
Some species, like canary grass or fescue, can tolerate wetter ground better than others, like orchardgrass, so consider reseeding areas that are always wet or where you’ve noticed water pooling, Little said.
“Fescue is tougher and can hold animals up so they don’t sink into the soil so much, too,” he said.
Little said it’s too late to replant perennial pastures now, but sowing annual cover crops like cereal rye or oats will help hold the soil until pastures can be replanted in the spring.
Watch for weeds. But more than choking out plants, standing water brings in other pasture-related concerns.
Water running on to your property could bring undesirable weed species with it from around the neighborhood, including cocklebur, burdock, ragweed and more.
Little says to pay close attention to the types of plants growing in your pastures after the rains, and use appropriate weed control.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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