Management Practices for Better Pastures

Quality pasture is one of the greatest assets in the production of ruminant livestock. Good pasture provides high quality feed very cost effectively and with a relatively low labor requirement. However, many pastures receive little if any management; resulting in low yielding, low quality feed. Here are a few basic tips when it comes to managing for a quality pasture.

  1. Get to know your grass (and forbs, legumes, etc…): Different forage species have different growth characteristics and, as a result, have different requirements. Understanding these requirements depends on having an accurate identification of the plants that you are managing. Once you know what species you are dealing with, developing a better understanding of their specific requirements will allow you to make management decision to properly manage them.
  1. Know the soil conditions: This is where having a timely soil test is key. Forage crops, like all crops, are affected by soil conditions such as pH, phosphorus, and potassium levels. Maintaining these attributes within the acceptable range for these crops is critical to ensuring that they perform as they should.
  1. Manage growth stage: Forage quality is at its highest when the plant is in  vegetative growth stages, and declines rapidly once the plant enters reproductive stages. Managing grazing or mowing to keep forage crops in a vegetative state will maximize the quality of forage that the animal receives.
  1. Let it rest: Allowing adequate rest periods between grazing events will help to maximize the vigor and health of the forage stand. When a forage plant is grazed, that plant loses a majority of its’ photosynthetic capacity, and must rely on root reserves of carbohydrates in order to build more leaf tissue. If repeated grazing is allowed, that plant will be continually depleting its’ root reserves in order to build new tissue. Over time, this can result in stunted forage plants that are more susceptible to drought stress, winter injury, and pests.
  1. Manage weeds: Weeds are a given, even in a well-managed crop. Complete weed control is often impractical due to a number of factors, such as cost, grazing restrictions of herbicides, and limited herbicide options. However, properly timed and executed grazing and cutting will limit the ability of weeds to actively grow and, perhaps more importantly, limits their ability to reproduce. In addition, maintaining a strong forage stand will also reduce weeds due to competition.

Forages are unique plants that require careful management to perform to their fullest potential, which in turn can have major benefits to animal productivity.

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