Having a grazing plan will help extend the grazing season throughout the year.
By: John Jennings, Professor Extension Forages, University of Arkansas
The highs and lows of pasture growth over the past three years have shown one thing is for certain. Producers following a good pasture management strategy have a more consistent supply of forage than those that rely only on Mother Nature. With rising costs, controlling inputs is important. But the main input of pasture planning is strategy and that doesn’t cost anything.
How you manage pastures in this season or this month greatly influences pasture performance in the next season or next month. For example, grazing a fescue/clover pasture early in April promotes more leafy grazing thirty days later and less seedstalks. Cutting fescue hay down to a 2-inch stubble in late June just as high temperatures hit in July stops growth and causes a lot of stand damage. The key to good pasture strategy is to stay on schedule. So this article will give some grass growing points and details for the remainder of summer into fall. Our experience on the research stations at Batesville, Fayetteville, and Hope and with many producers across the state, north to south and corner to corner, shows that all these practices work (or else I wouldn’t be recommending them).
July: Plan for a last hay crop and for grazing through the rest of summer
- Rotate pastures on a weekly basis to keep grass in a growing stage. This will be worthwhile when drought occurs. (Savings from improved grazing management = 2-3 weeks more grazing when drought hits)
- Fertilize for the last summer hay cutting and then cut and put it in the barn. Don’t plan on feeding it until late winter because you will be planning to grow lots of fall pasture. Barn stored hay will keep through next year and longer. (Savings from reducing hay waste with covered storage = 15% to 25% of your crop).
August: Plan for fall pasture
- Pick one or two bermudagrass or bahiagrass pastures to stockpile for fall grazing. These could be where you cut that hay in July. Clip or graze the stubble to about three inches tall and apply 50-60 lbs/acre of nitrogen fertilizer between August 1 and 15 (August 15 and 30 for far south Arkansas). Then let it grow until October just as you would for a hay cutting. But you will plan to strip graze it using a single temporary electric wire to make it last longer. The level of quality in this forage will support your cows until late December if enough forage is available. (Savings from grazing stockpiled forage instead of feeding hay = $25-$50 per animal unit or $50-$75 per acre of forage stockpiled).
- Pick a bermudagrass field or a field to be renovated and plant forage brassica and ryegrass. Brassica planted in late August or early September on a lightly disked pasture will be ready to graze by mid to late October or can be deferred to graze in late November to December after the stockpiled bermudagrass. This option gives fescue/clover pastures more growing time in fall for grazing in November and December. The companion ryegrass in the mixture will be ready to graze in March and April. (savings from forage brassica/ryegrass = $25 to >$100 per animal unit)
September: Plan for winter pasture
- Pick a fescue field to stockpile for winter grazing. Clip or graze off old fescue forage to a 3-inch stubble and apply 50-60 lbs/acre of nitrogen fertilizer between September 1 and 15. Let it grow until early December or defer until January 1 if you have brassica to graze in December. Strip graze it with a single temporary electric wire to make it last twice as long as it would without strip grazing. The level of quality in this forage will support cows until spring greenup if enough forage is available. (Savings from stockpiled forage instead of feeding hay = $25-$50 per animal; Savings from strip grazing = an additional $10 per animal unit)
- In bermudagrass-based systems, interseed wheat and ryegrass for winter and spring grazing. Plant in a disked pasture in September and apply N fertilizer after emergence for grazing by December. Planting in October/November delays grazing until late winter or spring.
- Test all hay to determine quality levels. Producers had lots of hay last winter, but many complained at the poor performance of their animals being fed. Hay tests help you feed the best hay when livestock need the best quality. You can also limit feed hay to animals grazing winter annuals or stockpiled forage. This makes the pasture last longer and supplements hay quality.
With all this winter grazing, maybe you didn’t need to harvest that last summer hay cutting after all. Good thing it’s stored in the barn.