Plan ahead for long-term grazing management of forage stands
By David G. Hallauer
Meadowlark Extension District Agent
We previously looked at short-term pasture management scenarios, particularly as they relate to the dry conditions that continue over much of our area. Unfortunately, weather like we've seen the past 18 to 24 months does not have short-term effect on our forage crops.
Cool-season grasses "recover" in the fall as temperatures moderate a little, by putting down more roots, tillering, and building up root reserves (energy). More roots/tillers/root reserves means a greater ability of that grass plant to withstand stress and come out on the other side with a chance to thrive. If phosphorous/potassium levels require it, apply in the fall (late August/early September) with just a little bit of nitrogen to help stimulate that process. Yes, it's an additional application, but stressed stands can really benefit from a little TLC. If you don't apply then, get on in early winter, rather than late.
Watch for increasing weed pressure. Stressed stands--heavily grazed stands--any stand that has been "beat up" a little, will tend to have more "open spaces" in it. Those open spaces are openings for weeds to come in. In some cases, we may have to consider herbicide applications. In others, improved conditions will help combat the situation. One caution: if those open spaces are filled with plants that have some level of toxicity to livestock, problems can occur.
Last but not least--what other options do you have? Are there other forage options that can help ease the already heavy grazing load on these stands? Is there other productive ground that can be seeded to a complimentary forage. Start thinking now about those options so that you are able to a) get seed, and b) get it seeded in a timely manner.
Grazing management of our forage stands will be a huge challenge this summer. There's a fine line between maximizing grazing opportunity and overgrazing. Make sure you are planning ahead to stay on the side of the former.