It’s time to evaluate your pastures

There is no time like the present to evaluate your pasture fields for damage from over grazing and weather related stress. While you are trying to warm up after feeding your livestock and checking on their water, it is a good time to evaluate your recent management successes and challenges.

After dealing with a drier than normal summer, many fields had shorter than normal forage stands going in to the fall and winter grazing cycle. This left many of us wondering where the sod went when we got a couple of rains that turned our green fields in to brown soup. Part of the explanation for this is the fact that the root system of our forages grows in proportion to the top growth.

Beating

With close frequent grazing caused by low rainfall and limited available production, the root systems also took a beating. With limited root systems underground, it does not take much livestock traffic to really tear up a field. We are then left with a choice of moving the livestock to other fields and risking the same results, moving them more quickly so they don’t damage the field they are in, or moving them to a sacrifice area.

Preventing damage to your remaining fields does not fix the fields already stressed. Some fields may need a frost seeding to give them a jump start this spring. This may be accomplished by broadcasting legume seed, such as clover, on the snow just prior to a predicted thaw in the late winter or early spring. As the snow melts, the seed is hopefully carried into the soil. We typically get some good frost action with the soils freezing and thawing in late winter, which also helps to get good seed to soil contact which is needed for the new root system to develop.

Dates

February to early March is the recommended frost seeding period dates for clovers. Some cool-season grasses may also be frost seeded but that is less common. Feb. 1 through late April is the recommended seeding time for red or white clovers. For a frost seeding to be successful, there must be some bare soil so that the seed can reach the ground and not get caught in plant residue. Typically 6-8 pounds per acre of red clover seed, or 3-4 pounds per acre of white clover will be adequate to get the stand going again.

Annual ryegrass or cereal oats may be added to the mix from early March to mid April for a quick growing annual grass to increase the yield in the spring and early summer. Use 12-18 pounds per acre of annual ryegrass, or 44-65 pounds per acre of spring (cereal) oats in the seeding mix.

This also might be a good time to evaluate your winter feeding area.

Do you have an area that is accessible during extremely wet weather? Is there an adequate water supply that doesn’t freeze near where you are feeding when it is extremely cold or when it is extremely muddy? Is the manure that accumulates around these feeding areas contained so that it does not cause a pollution problem as rain water or melting snow runs off the area? Does the area look well managed to your non farm neighbors that drive by?

Valuable

The nutrients and valuable topsoil that leave your farm are not only a pollution concern, but are a valuable resource that is expensive to replace. If you identify areas that need improved, consider contacting the local Natural Resources Conservation Service office or the soil and water conservation district office and ask for assistance in developing a plan to address the problems and challenges that you have identified. Their planning assistance is free and there is a potential for cost share assistance to implement practices that will address your resource concerns.

Muskingum and Morgan county farmers may contact the local office at 740-454-2767 to schedule an appointment.

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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