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In Cool Spring, Hold Cows off Pasture Until Growth Reaches at least 4 Inches

March 20, 2014
Grazing Cattle_Cover Crops

By: Duane Dailey, University of Missouri Extension

At the first sign of green grass growing in pastures, farmers will be tempted to turn in livestock for grazing.

"Hold back," says Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist. "Wait for grass to reach a minimum 4 inches of new growth. More is better.

"After a long hard winter, I am as sick of feeding hay as anyone," Kallenbach says. "But I’ll try to hold back."

A delayed start on grazing becomes more important than usual this spring. "Pastures will be weak and thin," he says. "Give grasses a chance to gain strength."

Pastures were hurt two ways. Dry weather last fall left grasses weak going into winter. The fall of 2013 was drier than the fall of the drought year of 2012, when hurricane rains revived fall pastures.

Secondly, extreme cold killed or set back grass this year.

"You think grass doesn’t grow in winter. But it is alive and growing. Any new growth was frozen repeatedly."

Extreme variations in temperatures made winterkill worse. There would be 60 degrees one day. Three days later it would fall below zero again. "The plant would react to the springlike temperatures—and then get zapped.

"The cure for weak stands is rest and regrowth to restore depleted sugar reserves."

Grazing too early could cause need for pasture reseeding later, or the weak stands could become crowded out with weeds.

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