Walking Pastures - Important Step in Pasture Management
Posted: August 28, 2012
Pasture deterioration occurs over time, even though it may appear to happen suddenly. Good grazers routinely walk their pastures, looking for changes in populations of desirable plants, increases in weeds, loss of plant vigor, and increasing bare spots. How many times have you patted yourself on the back when looking at your pastures in spring, congratulating yourself for a job well done? How many times have you been dismayed in August to find that the same pastures turned into weeds, seemingly “overnight”?
What Grasses Are Best?
- Remember that the mainstay of most pastures is cool season grasses such as Kentucky Bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, orchardgrass, brome, and timothy. These grasses prefer temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees and are very productive in spring and fall. When temperatures increase, cool season grasses slow down their production and become dormant.
- If a pasture manager is not watching closely and allows animals to continue to graze plants to ground level during hot, dry conditions, the grass can be eliminated from the pasture.
Rotating pastures will allow grasses to recover and will keep pastures productive. Tall grasses can be grazed to maintain a height of 4-5 inches; short grasses should be maintained at 2 to 3 inches. If grass is grazed closer than this, the animals should be removed from the pasture and rotated to another pasture.
If there is not enough land on the farm to allow for rotation, then stress lots or sacrifice areas can be constructed to contain animals during periods of adverse growing conditions.
- Stress lots are generally constructed of small stone and then covered with packed stone dust so that manure can be scraped from the surface.
- The lot is sloped to allow water to run off.
- Vegetation should be maintained around the stress lot to absorb water and excess nutrients.
Walking pastures in spring and summer will also allow you to develop an inventory of weeds that are present.
- Continual grazing combined with slow summer forage growth creates bare spots, allowing sunlight to reach the soil surface. This creates a wonderful opportunity for weed seeds to germinate and for weeds to become established.
- Herbicides today are very safe but are selective and are not always effective on all the weeds that are present. It is important to choose the best herbicide to control the weeds that are in the pastures and equally important to use that product at the right time.
- Late summer is a good time to control perennial weeds. Summer annual weeds should be identified and controlled in early spring when the weeds are very small and have not had time to produce seeds.
Remember that the best weed control agent that exists is a thick, healthy stand of pasture grasses that will not allow weed seeds to germinate in the first place. In a badly overgrazed pasture, weeds can play an important role in absorbing excess manure nutrients and protecting soil from erosion. So if you choose to eliminate weeds, be sure to develop a plan to thicken up your pasture forages and then keep the plants healthy and thick. Remember that it is easier to keep a pasture productive than to repair one that has deteriorated.