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The Cattle Connection

Handling Early Spring Challenges with Sacrifice Paddocks

A long, harsh winter coupled with a slow start to spring has left many producers frustrated with where to put cows. Calving cows do not do very well in muddy lots that are already piled high with used bedding from the winter. Nor do pastures do very well with lots of foot traffic as they try to re-establish and become productive in the 2014 season. So… the logical thought is turn cows out, but keep them in a sacrifice paddock.

This logic makes good sense, however the farmer needs to be aware that renovation of some sort needs to take place on the sacrifice area. Ideally, a weak stand or portion of the pasture that needed additional nutrients and re-seeding was chosen. Then renovation can include a few options. Producers can seed an annual crop such as spring oats (probably too late this year) or a summer annual like Sudan-grass, Sorghum Sudan, Pearl Millet, etc. to achieve quick cover of the bare soil. This can provide some summer grazing or a hay crop off of the sacrifice area. In the fall, a permanent seeding can be put down and the paddock allowed to rest and grow the new seeding into the next grazing season. It is important to allow rest to this paddock and NOT use it for a sacrifice area the following year, as the new seeding will be trampled and fail.

I encourage farmers to not use the same area as a sacrifice area year after year. This makes it very hard to ever establish permanent forage. If this is the case you find yourself in, then the area needs to be an area that is less conducive to erosion and potentially used for tillable acreage. This is accomplished by either forage production with annuals or with row-crop production. Many cattle producers will sacrifice a small amount of acreage to hold cows on until they can get to pasture. Additional tillage may be necessary to remove compaction if cows are left through spring time (Much research shows no compaction difference when cows are removed before spring thaw).

Cattle producers should look for other alternatives for early spring. For example, stockpiled fescue in a few paddocks would allow for turnout earlier in the spring. Using cereal rye as a cover crop in most years will allow earlier turnout and rest on permanent pastures. A fast rotation through paddocks will help eliminate overgrazing once cows are turned out.

Early spring is always a challenging time. We sure want to get cows and calves out to a clean environment, but we do not want to jeopardize the remainder of the grazing season. There are options, and a sacrifice paddock is among the most popular. A prompt, careful renovation of the sacrifice area can make it a good contributor to grazing and forage production.