SPRING PASTURE MANAGEMENT for PRODUCTIVITY RECOVERY – Gene Schmitz University of Missouri Extension - SEDALIA, Mo. — (This article is on target for our county in TN as well, Mr. Schmitz lays out a great management plan and suggestions- Darrell)
Drought conditions last summer and fall resulted in overgrazed pastures in many locations in central Missouri. Below are some ideas to help these fields recover productivity.
Soil test and at a minimum fertilize to the most least limiting nutrient. If pH is low, add lime. If phosphorus levels are low, add phosphorus to soil test recommendations. If you decide not to fertilize or reduce the amount of fertilizer being applied, where is the potential missing forage going to come from?
However, it is not a good idea to fertilize just to get stuff produced. Fertilize and manage acres to get as much production and nutrition harvested as you can. Fertilizing all pasture acres the same way is probably not a good strategy, especially with high fertilizer prices. Target some acres for quicker growth in the spring, while other acres can be fertilized based on their most limiting nutrient.
Rest pastures as long as possible this spring before grazing. Four to six inches of forage height are probably ideal before starting to graze a pasture. Rotational grazing systems will also help pastures recover by providing built-in rest time. Be sure to move livestock rapidly through the paddocks early in the grazing season to help reduce seed head formation.
Assess what plants are growing in the pasture. Are there more weeds than desirable grasses and legumes? Can you get by with just overseeding additional grass into the pasture, or do you need to do a complete renovation? If complete renovation is in order, consider replacing pasture with native warm season grasses or novel endophyte tall fescue varieties.
Expect weed pressure and deal with it accordingly. Identify the dominant weed(s) and use appropriate control in a timely manner. Wait to re-seed legumes until after weed pressure is under control.
A couple of quick comments on hay production. Try to get at least some hay produced as soon as possible in the spring. This will help ensure some high-quality hay is conserved and allows time during good growing conditions for additional regrowth to occur.
Alternatively, producers might consider putting up a combination of summer and winter annuals for the hay supply and save the cool-season perennial fields for grazing. Push the pencil on this, but it might be a better alternative than harvesting 1.5 or 2.0 tons of grass hay per acre.
When grazing or cutting hay, RAISE THE HARVEST HEIGHT! Leave four inches of residual for cool-season grasses and 8 to 10 inches of residual for native warm season grasses. There is little to no nutritional value in the stems below this point. Plus, this will help keep perennial forage plants healthy and promotes a thick, dense sod.
Finally, assess why there is a forage deficit on the farm. Is the operation overstocked by either numbers or livestock weight? On an annual basis assuming a harvested forage yield of 4,000 pounds per acre and a daily feed intake of 2.5 percent of body weight, it takes an extra 23 acres to feed 50 head of 1,400-pound cows versus 50 head of 1,200-pound cows.