A proactive approach to pasture management

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frost free water tank
A frost-free water tank installed on a concrete pad provides a solid stable area around a fresh water supply regardless of the weather. (Submitted photo)

As we begin the New Year and start making plans for the coming season, I was recently reminded of some good advice from Benjamin Franklin who said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

While this advice can apply to many things such as your mom telling you to wear your coat when it was cold outside so that you didn’t get sick, or wash your hands often when cold and flu season was hitting everyone, it also applies to our daily lives and decisions as farmers.

Ounce of prevention

If we did a good job of rotational grazing throughout the last year, then we should have a good start on knowing what we need to do for the coming year. On the other hand, if you, along with the majority of grazing operations, have identified areas that could use some improvements or were on the edge of being acceptable this year, a little planning and work now could solve a lot of potential problems. Some areas to consider include increasing weed pressure or toxic weeds. What can you do to reduce or eliminate the problem?

Uneven grazing

Uneven grazing or over grazed areas could be addressed by adding additional water sources in areas that are not as well utilized, adding some temporary fence to divide the pasture field or paddock or change the number of days an area is grazed and the length of time it is rested between grazing periods.

Another possible solution if the forage is limited at certain times of the year, like the summer slump, would be to feed some supplemental hay or other feed supplements for a period of time while the pasture is short.

Mud

Muddy areas in travel lanes, around water tanks or feed areas could be addressed by avoiding some areas when the ground is soft. Adding geotextile fabric and stone around tanks and feed areas and adjusting travel routes by changing the fence layout or by adding geotec and stone in the problem areas.

Adding gutters, downspouts and underground outlets to roof areas in and near pastures could also help eliminate mud issues and possibly offer an additional source of water for part of the season.

Electric fences

Livestock not respecting your electric fence could be caused by several things. This has been one of the most common problems that I have seen this year. The first step is to check the charger and make sure that it is working properly. Is it making good connections to the wires? This may mean unhooking the wires, cleaning them and reattaching them.

Next check the ground rod system. Is the ground wire securely attached to all of your ground rods and do you have enough of them located far enough apart. If you have a good tester, check the charge on your fence. Then add one more ground rod about 10 feet from the last one in the system and securely attach it to the next one in line.

If the fence tester changes readings to show more charge, then you did not have enough ground rods to get the full capacity from your charger and may still not until you have added enough rods that the last one does not change the reading on the fence tester. Be sure to check the clamps and wire at each rod to make sure that they are not corroded or broken.

Walk the line

The next step is to walk the fence in sections if you have a way to separate part of the system to isolate potential problems. Often you will find broken, cracked or missing insulators, pieces of old wire that have come in contact with your hot wires, brace wires that are touching or nearly touching your hot wires or somewhere that the wire has come in contact with the ground or a metal fence post.

Each of these problems, along with tree branches and weeds, can drain the charge of the fence and result in less than satisfactory results in convincing the livestock that they really do not want to mess with the fence. After everything has been checked, hopefully you will have established or re-established enough charge to train or re-train your livestock that the fence is to be respected.

Respect the fence

An additional step may be to set up a training pen with a secure perimeter. Add one or more hot wires inside the perimeter that can be moved away from the perimeter fence so that the livestock encounter it before getting to the more physical fence.

Hopefully they will learn that whether it is one wire or multiple wires — depending on the type of livestock being managed — that when they see the wire, poly-rope, poly tape, or whatever mix that you are using, that they need to stop or they are going to get zapped. It usually only takes a few days and a few of the animals getting a good education until you can turn them back out onto your newly repaired electric fence with confidence that they will respect it.

Other considerations

What other little things have you noticed that if addressed now can prevent larger problem when the grazing season is in full swing next summer? Have you checked your soil pH and fertility? Do you need to frost seed legumes into a week stand of grass? Do you need to repair or rebuild a large section of fence?

If you have all of these items addressed, then congratulations and enjoy a nice quiet winter. Keep an eye out for early spring growth that signals cheap, high quality feed is ready to go again and start your rotation before it gets ahead of your livestock.

There are several pasture related workshops planned throughout the region this winter along with agronomy schools, herbicide and pesticide training classes, fertility training classes for certification, farm tax workshops and many other opportunity to get together with other farmers and share your experiences.

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