"Don't pug your pastures, says Wayne Hanselka, AgriLife Extension range specialist at Corpus Christi. Pugging is a term used when too many cattle or other livestock are kept too long on wet pastures with limited or no forage. The result is intensively trampled soil which leads to soil compaction, poor plant growth and greater fertilizer requirements on tame pastures.
He said if the practice continues the damage would increase to the point that pastures start to rapidly decline in quality, sometimes permanently.
"All of Texas is suffering from months of no rain,” says Hanselka. "Recent rains across a wide swath of Texas last week followed by warm weather this week has producers as eager for spring green-up as are their cows. But just because it rained once doesn't mean we're out of the woods yet. Those unfortunate enough to have suffered the ravages of a fire this winter must realize any grass they have left has little or no stored nutrients in its root system.
"Grazing the first green on burned pastures could easily kill the grass or weaken it so a continuing drought would kill it. Stressed grass needs time before it is grazed and the necessary soil nutrients must be added if cutting hay is the intent."
Cutting losses by destocking is the most logical way out when no other pasture is available, says Hanselka. But when years of herd genetics are at stake, he concedes that for some producers this is not an option. He advises producers to keep feeding on well-drained, heavily turfed areas; or if no such area is available, drylot the cows.
He said the sparse green which the recent rains will soon bring to many decimated pastures will not be enough to keep cattle fed.
"A cow needs 35-40 pounds of dry forage a day just to maintain her,” Hanselka said. "What little they are getting now is hurting the grass far more than it is helping the cattle."
"Cows typically waste as much forage through trampling, dunging and other activities as they eat,” he said. "There are also losses due to insects, plant maturity and decay. So just leaving cows in a damaged pasture can be devastating whether there is anything for them to eat or not.”
Hanselka said when the rains finally do return, erosion and subsequent leaching and loss of topsoil are other serious problems producers who over-graze will face.
"Look down the road,” he said. "When it looks like it can't get any worse, just know when it comes to poor pasture management, it can.”