Pasture management key after drought
By Jennifer Carrico
The 2012 drought put extra pressure on the pastures across the Midwest, and improvements will be needed in the coming years.
University of Missouri Professor of Agronomy Rob Kallenbach told attendees to the Iowa Cattlemen's Convention that there are many options to manage forages after drought.
Legumes are a good option to improve forage quality, establish good pasture longevity and cause fewer problems with tall fescue toxicity.
"While legumes are a good option, they can also be harder to get established and have higher fertility requirements, while being more susceptible to diseases and insect problems," he said.
For best results with legumes, they should be established in January through March. He suggested planting legume seeds via broadcast seeding to get the best results.
"Too often people try to mix legumes in with nitrogen fertilizer. The problem with that is the fertilizer makes the grass grow and causes too much competition for the legumes to get established," he said.
No-till is a good option also and can be a bit more successful, but is more costly than other seeding options and seed depth needs to be no more than one-half inch to ensure plants will develop.
"No-till can be twice as successful as broadcast seeding, but also costs twice as much," said Kallenbach.
He suggests broadcasting red clover every year to be sure to get a good stand. The plants should last for two years. After legume seeds get through the first 60 days, it should be established well enough to survive. Burning back grasses can help establish these legumes also.
To get the best legume establishment, Kallenbach suggests starting with a soil test in the summer or fall. Next, he said soil should be treated with the needed lime, potassium and/or phosphorus to make it a ready seedbed. If lime is applied, wait six months before seeding.
Next, he suggests grazing the pasture, followed by broadcast seeding and then managing the grass growth.
"Pastures don't always need to be fertilized, but if growing conditions are good and there is a need for additional feed, it should be done," he said.
Other reasons for fertilizing include making changes in forage growth patterns in order to meet animal feed needs, strategically using fertilizer to encourage one type of forage plant over another, or if the cost to grow additional forage with fertilizer is less than it would cost to purchase additional feed.
"Soil pH is the most important thing to regulate in order to grow good grass," he said. "Knowing what you have to work with in a pasture makes all the difference when deciding how to seed and fertilize."
About 95 percent of phosphorus and potassium are returned the soil. About one-fourth to one-half of the nitrogen applied to pastures is done so as manure or urine that is returned to the ground via the cattle running on it. Forty to 50 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer is needed to grow one ton of cool-season grass.
Kallenbach said it is important to know the different nutrient requirements for the different grasses in order to get a pasture management plan.
Nitrogen fertilization of pastures can be hard to strategically use properly. Cool-season grass growth is the highest in May and June and again in October. If nitrogen fertilizer is applied about mid-March, there will be more growth in early spring, which must be managed by baling or early season grazing. He said it is important to graze this growth off or it will go to waste.
In order to get more grass growth in early fall, he suggested putting the nitrogen fertilizer on in late summer instead at a rate of 40 to 80 pounds per acre if the grass is short.
"You are only paying for fertility if it allows you to buy less feed and sell more cattle live weight," he said. "Otherwise, it's a waste of money."
Kallenbach suggests producers renovate their worst pastures first and then work through the other fields. By planning to renovate 5 to 10 percent of the farm each year, the entire farm will be back in good pasture conditions in a 10-year span and the cost will be kept at lower rate.
"Those who are dealing with high levels of endophyte-infected tall fescue should renovate those fields first, along with pastures with thin stands, lots of undesirable weeds and those reaching their optimum carrying capacity," he said. "The No. 1 resource to make more beef on your operation is the feed. By taking care of the grass, you will get more out of your farm."
Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.