Get the most out of spring grazing
Miranda Edge, ANR Extension Educator
With the up and down of the temperature gauge and a hint of warmth from the sun, livestock and farmers alike are ready for summer and lush pastures to provide nutrients. The cool season grasses have even started to poke out here and there signifying spring is here, but don’t get in too much of a hurry to let those cow-calf pairs out on new spring grasses if you want to keep grazing until late into the fall.
Here are a few tips that could help improve your pastures this year:
• Keep feeding hay. Yep, you heard it; don’t stop feeding hay just yet. Keeping livestock off pastures until they have a chance to grow to at least six inches; eight inches would be better. If your hay is poorer quality, supplement. As you start to use spring grass, you may find that low dry matter in fields may fall short of nutrient requirements for lactating and growing animals.
• If pastures were grazed short last fall or even grazed over the winter, pull cattle off those pastures and give them time to heal. This could take upward of six weeks, depending on nutritional needs and how tightly the forage was grazed down. Create sacrifice pastures where a feeding pad can help with high traffic and hay management. Get into the routine of using this sacrifice pasture when pastures look like they need a break, especially in hot dry weather or at the end of the grazing period this fall.
• Use rotational grazing. In Extension, we talk a lot about this, and for good reason: it works. Look for ways to divide pastures so that paddocks have six weeks of downtime between grazing periods. Strip grazing will help reduce compaction and can help with fertilizing but can be labor intensive.
• Scout your fields now. This is the best time to take soil samples and apply recommended nutrients while livestock is off the field. Look for ways to at least quarter a field, if strip grazing or six paddocks is not feasible for you. You know your ground, livestock and ability to manage forages. Using temporary fencing can also help you adjust if things aren’t working the way you would like.
• While scouting pastures, check hay fields. Starting with good soil can make a difference with this year’s hay quality. We found several hay samples tested in 2019 were lower in crude protein and overall nutritional value than expected. We recommended feeding supplements to maintain the needs of livestock over the winter.
Did you know that those pesky weeds that come up in the spring could be reduced greatly through rotational grazing efforts? If grass is left taller in the fall, there is more ground cover choking out weeds. This year, use pre-emergence for buttercup and other broadleafs, spot spray as needed and incorporate rotational grazing to reduce your workload next year.
Sign up for cost-share programs through the Soil and Water Conservation District Office or NRCS. They can assist you with improving feeding pads, adding waterers, pasture renovations, eradicating invasive weed species and more.
Each year, I get a few calls about how to keep cattle from bloating after a frost. The spring frost period is not as concerning as the fall frost period. Recommendations for grazing warm season perennial grasses, like Johnsongrass, include waiting five to six days after a killing frost and/or to only graze grasses that are at least two feet. In addition, feeding cereal grains to livestock prior to turning out on a pasture with Johnsongrass present can help counteract the toxicity of the prussic acid in the gut.
Grazing mixed grass pastures and rotational grazing under high stoking rates (four to six head per acre) can also reduce the chance of a prussic acid toxicity. When cutting Johnsongrass for hay, the curing stage has been found to reduce the concentration of prussic acid by 75%.
For more information about grazing or forages in general, check out www.noble.org or www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/forages. Look for field walk and the annual Cattlemen’s Field Day to learn more about livestock and forage management.