Here are some considerations for grazing cattle in the fall.
By: Travis Meteer, Extension Educator, University of Illinois Extension
The 2014 grazing season has been one of the best in recent memory. Plenty of rain throughout the grazing season help push pastures to maximum production. Many of you may have a good amount of fall stockpile to utilize. Along with cornstalks, grazing further into the season is a very achievable goal this year. Let's look at some considerations for fall grazing and how they can impact you next grazing season.
First, hopefully many of you are using crop residue to leave pastures alone until a couple good frosts hit. This break from grazing not only allows regrowth and stockpiling, but it also allows the plants root system to strengthen and prepare for a strong start in the spring. Some grasses are different. Fescue becomes more palatable after a frost, but many others like reeds canary and some summer annuals could be less palatable or even somewhat dangerous. Remember grasses like sorghum-sudan grass can have prussic acid issues after a frost.
Next, the amount of residual growth (or height of remaining forage) you choose to leave should match your desired goal. If you are planning to frost seed clover or another legume to help fix nitrogen and increase stand diversity… then go ahead and remove more forage. I usually recommend that producers take the pasture down until the average height is 2-3 inches. If you plan to use the pasture early in the spring as one of your first rotations… then you need to leave at least 6 in of residual. This ensures the grass will be strong starting and some older grass is available to add dry matter to lush, early growth.
Now, if you find your pastures are overgrazed and abused in the fall. Frost seeding clover is an option to fill the holes that you have created in your stand. If you have continually overgrazed a pasture the rehabilitation will need to be longer and a more thought out process. You may want to apply a herbicide application in the spring to fight weed pressure or commit to mowing weeds before they seed. Including more grass seed may help cover holes, but continued pressure will cause quick failure. Resting that pasture and assessing the soil nutrients, pH, and weed pressure will help you make a good decision on how to rehab your overgrazed pasture.
Finally, the best thing you can do for your pasture is to sub-divide it into paddocks to allow a rotational or managed grazing system. It will by far be the best return on investment of any improvement you make to your pasture. You do not need lots of money to do this. Water is the key. Invest in making water available in different areas of the pasture. After that you can buy step in posts, poly wire and a reel. Dividing a pasture will take no time at all and you will see huge benefits to the grass when allowed to rest.
Grazing is a bit of an art. However, there is good science behind the forage productivity and increased profits from lower feed costs associated with good grazing management. If you sell a group of calves this year, you should be capable of making some investments in your grazing management.
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