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Fall Pasture Management Can Add Pounds of Beef by Spring

Fall Pasture Management with Kevin Campbell

From fall fertilizer applications to over-seeding cool and warm season pastures with targeted forage mixes, beef producers can use many methods to increase gains.

Fall management of pastures makes for cost-efficient beef cattle gains, and can ensure grazing throughout the winter with a minimum of supplementation.

Beef cow standing in a pasture

Probably the most important chores to prepare cool-season grass pastures for winter grazing is applying sufficient fertilizer to stimulate vigorous growth as early as possible, and to sustain that growth into months when plant growth normally slows. Since most pastures across the South and Eastern Seaboard are often fertilized with poultry litter, phosphorus levels are generally more than adequate, so applications of 19-5-19 or 20-0-20 are common for late summer applications at rates ranging from 300 to 350 pounds per acre.

The best method to determine fertilizer application rates in your pastures, however, is to soil sample pastures thoroughly and base supplemental NPK amounts on fertility analysis of those samples. Given adequate fertility, typical fescue-based pastures across the South can support 1-2 head per acre in using controlled grazing management systems such as strip grazing or rotational paddock grazing.

Research shows controlled grazing significantly improves forage utilization and prevents “leaving beef pounds in the pasture” in the form of wasted or trampled forage.

An example might be in a 100-acre shoebox-shaped pasture, the producer turns the cattle in and lets them eat indiscriminately. The cattle search out the most palatable pasture and, in doing so, trample much perfectly good forage in the process. Conversely, cross-fencing or permanent paddocks can limit how much the cattle can graze or how far they can travel at any given time, forcing cattle to eat the forage in front of them, so they waste very little. The result is much better utilization of land and the inputs that go into pasture forage, and much less wastage of forage that could become beef gain.

Interseeding To Extend Grazing

In pastures made up of warm-season species such as bermudagrass or Bahia grass, interseeding small grains and legumes is an excellent practice to even out grazing throughout fall, winter and spring. Overseeding small grains and legumes on cropland that has just come out of corn or soybean production is another way to improve winter forage supplies.

Small grains used for overseeding usually include wheat, oats, rye, triticale and/or ryegrass. Legumes used in this practice include white, red and crimson clover. The combination of the small grains provide cool-season forage production while the legumes add to soil health by providing nitrogen fixation and boosting microbial activity in the root zone of the forage grains.

Late-summer interseeding of white and red clover also can provide a boost to fescue-based pastures by providing additional winter nitrogen and, in the case of red clover, diluting the toxicity in endophyte-infected fescue.

Planting dates for overseeded pasture crops varies by region, ranging from late summer in northern areas to mid-November in the lower latitudes. Still, depending upon the weather and moisture, overseeded small grains and clovers can provide forage in as little as 45 days and can maintain green pastures until warm-season species begin to regrow in the spring.

Visit with your Southern States representative for help with late-summer pasture management for top quality forage and help choosing the right fit for your operation from our long list of forage seed species, and fertilizer and herbicide choices.

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