Spring turnout is just around the corner and it should be a good one, given all the rain and snow that has fallen in cattle country this winter. Even the drought in South Texas has improved. Granted, that can easily change with just a few weeks of little or no rainfall, but optimism always abounds with the beginning of a new season.
While you can't manage the rain, there are other areas of pasture management that you can control and plan. Fertilizing pastures is one of those control measures that can boost plant growth, but application timing is critical.
Research from Nebraska shows producers can get 1 lb. of additional calf or yearling gain for every pound of nitrogen fertilizer applied. This assumes the amount of fertilizer applied is within general recommendations, growth is affected mostly by moisture and the pasture will be well-managed, says University of Nebraska agronomist Bruce Anderson.
Time it right. Most producers apply fertilizer in the spring. But fertilizing too early can give a quick burst of growth, only to have plant quality diminish by summer.
Applying fertilizer too late or when there isn't enough moisture means money down the drain. The best approach is to stagger fertilizer applications to extend forages.
Before applying fertilizer, pencil out the cost and potential benefits. Don't waste money by fertilizing pastures that won't benefit.
Think back to how your pastures looked last year, Anderson says. Hopefully, you've been monitoring and have either written records or visual records (see "Picture Perfect" on page 8) to make the assessment. If the grass grew well in April and May, became stemmy in June and was brown by August, consider waiting on a fertilizer application until mid- to late spring.
Time to catch up. Don't give cows access to unfertilized pastures, and reevaluate pasture condition in mid-May. "Check weather and soil moisture," Anderson suggests.
If you think there is enough moisture in the soil for good regrowth, fertilize your pastures, Anderson says. But if you lack moisture and there are poor prospects for a successful regrowth, you should "save your money and don't apply any more fertilizer."
We are all looking for greener pastures this year. The trick is to make pastures greener without spending extra money. What are you doing to your pastures this year to optimize grazing? Drop us an e-mail to let us know your strategy to improving grazing resources.
Kim Watson-Potts, Editor, Beef Today, writes from San Antonio, Texas firstname.lastname@example.org