Agent offers tips for short-term pasture management
By David G. Hallauer
Meadowlark Extension District Agent
As dry conditions persist, forage producers may be mulling over their options for 2013. I want to address a few "short-term" thoughts as they relate to our forage systems.
First, most stands have likely been set back by the past couple of summers/early falls. Grass plants need a recovery period where they can grow vigorously, producing leaves that will use photosynthetic activity to send carbohydrates to their root systems. 2012 didn't provide much of that and I would argue that 2011 didn't either over much of the area. So what? Without that "recovery," grass plants tend to be less vigorous, have less winter survival, and green up later in the spring. In normal years, we can probably overcome that. In years like the last two, that can really set the stand behind and make it hard for it to ever catch up. Some of last summer's short hay crops were indicators of that.
Second, cool-season forage stands will still benefit from fertilizer, even under dry conditions. Under normal conditions, pastures grazed spring and fall need about 100 pounds of total nitrogen per acre. Apply 60 percent in the winter/early spring and the remainder in late August/early September along with needed phosphorus and potassium. I would suggest not planning for a failure by not applying fertilizer. Even if you cut back just a little, the grass will still respond to fertilizer with some moisture. Apply N to non-frozen soils or risk losing it during any moisture we do get and get it on as soon as you can. P and K may merit application in the fall.
Third, be ready to measure forage supplies. It's difficult to plan ahead or be able to make any decisions if you don't know what you have. If you've never given any thought to measuring forage height or trying to get an estimate of how much forage you have, this might be the year to start planning as such. Talk with your District Extension Agent about how to take some measurements.
And finally, start to plan ahead. Make your forage management system as flexible as possible.