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The Cattle Connection

Four pasture management tips

Group of cattle standing around cement waterer and shade in a pasture lot

Here are four tips for better managing pastures.

Rest Keeps Roots

Resting plants allows them to recover leaf tissue without robbing the root base. Continuous grazing will result in animals overgrazing as they will continue to graze down the most palatable plants. Overgrazing reduces yield, lowers root reserves, and makes plants more susceptible to drought.

Plants need leaves to collect sunlight and roots to absorb water and nutrients. Rest allows leaf and root mass to sustain optimal photosynthesis and, thus, better growth/yield. One of the best indicators that a plant has recovered is when the tips of the leaves of the plant are sharp. Stands of forage that are less stressed will have a leaf-to-stem ratio and will maintain a vegetative state longer in the grazing season.

Dense, Diverse Swards Help Weed Control

Weeds are a part of the landscape. A well-managed pasture will have a diverse sward of palatable, desirable species and less weeds. An overlooked weed control strategy is correctly managing forages to promote a dense, thick stand. This likely starts with proper stocking rates and resting forages. Inevitably, you will have weeds in a pasture that need to be controlled. Mechanical control via mowing can work well, or spot-spraying herbicides is a good option. Broad-spectrum herbicide applications can remove wanted/valuable forages.

Weeds can signal soil imbalances, excesses, and deficiencies. Improving soil fertility and correcting mineral imbalances or pH balances can help alleviate weed pressure. Overgrazing will result in more openings in the stand and more weed pressure.

Poor Fertility Creates Problems

Low soil fertility is one of the biggest hurdles to maximizing forage production. Soil testing is a must. If soil fertility is lacking, add fertility when cost-effective. Balancing soil pH and mineral imbalances can often be done more cost-effectively than broad fertilizer applications. Overgrazing, haying, and soil erosion all remove nutrients. Grazing animals deposit a large portion of the nutrients back onto the pasture in the form of manure. However, nutrients can be concentrated in areas of shade, water, and windbreak areas.

Water, Shade, and Paddock Size Impact Grazing Utilization

Distance to water, location of shade, and size and shape of the paddock can really determine grazing patterns. As a result, larger and more obtuse-shaped pastures may be unevenly grazed. This alone can cause overgrazing in certain areas. Square-shaped paddocks that have water within 800 ft. of the boundaries will be the most evenly grazed. Managing the time the animals are in a certain area is the best way to improve forage utilization. Continuous grazing results ~ 30% pasture utilization. A 7-day rotation with 6 paddocks results in approx. 55% utilization. Moving cattle once or more a day will result in a 75% utilization. A planned, adaptive grazing plan is needed by all grazers to ensure a successful grazing season that results in economical production of healthy animals

*Originally published in Progressive Cattle*