Spring Pasture Management 'Must Do's'
Pastures are more than a food source to livestock, in many instances pastures are where the livestock spend their days, exercise and socialize. It's up to the livestock owner to ensure that pastures provide not only a safe environment for the animals, but also adequate nutrition. For most, pasture management comes to mind during the spring when temperatures start to rise, however if you want to ensure you have productive pastures, proper pasture management practices must be adhered to every day of the year.
Even if you look out your window and all you see is a snow covered, frozen tundra-looking pasture, it's not too early to begin thinking about how to prepare pastures for spring. For cattle farmers, depending on your breeding season, spring can be an especially busy time on the farm therefore it's best to have a plan in place for your pastures. So what should you do to be ready for spring?
Test Your Soil
Soil is the foundation of a good pasture management program. You must know what nutrient levels are present in your soil. A soil test will help you better understand the needs of your pasture. Make sure you take samples that are representative of your entire pasture area.
"Soil testing will help determine soil pH and appropriate lime requirements, as well as fertilizer needs (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), based on the size of your pasture," explains Southern States® Agronomist Ken Sechler.
Once you have your results you can apply your fertilizer, phosphorus, potassium or other nutrients when the snow melts. Remember - if your soil results call for lime application, lime should be applied 6-12 months prior to seeding to allow adequate time for it to react with the soil. Contact your local Southern States store for more information regarding soil testing and how to implement test results.
Walk the Fence
Now that you know the soil composition of your pastures, you need to take a hands-on approach and physically inspect each pasture. Winter storms and heavy snows can wreak havoc on your existing fence lines and change the landscape of your pasture areas as trees and limbs fall from the weight of the snow. Therefore, you may need to improve some fencing and provide new shade sources for your livestock. If you notice areas that are more heavily grazed than others, you may want to add additional fencing (either permanent or temporary) to allow for pasture rotation. Rotating pastures is a great way to try and limit overgrazing of pastures.
Get Weeds under Control
Weed control is an important part of spring pasture management as you want spring growth to be free of weeds. Picking the right seed for your need is the first way to control weed growth. Plants that are appropriate for your soil will be hearty and out-compete weeds. Weeds indicate a problem with your soil, as desirable grasses and legumes aren't thriving while weeds are. Making corrections to your growing conditions following soil testing should put a hamper on weed growth.
Two other methods of weed controls are herbicides and mowing. Herbicides are effective in controlling annual, biennial and perennial broadleaved weeds in early spring when leaves are actively growing. Use caution when applying herbicides as they can also kill desirable legumes in your pasture. Additionally, you will want to remove livestock from herbicide treated pastures to make sure they don't injest the chemicals or eat less desirable poisonous plants in place of the treated plants.
Mowing helps shorten weed height on a temporary basis. If properly timed, mowing prevents weeds from producing seed and temporarily increases forage production. While mowing can be extremely helpful in managing your weed population, large weeds with well developed root systems cannot be controlled by mowing alone.
Frost Seed Your Pastures
If you didn't seed your pastures in the fall, it's not too late. Just make sure you seed early. Frost seeding, also known as "overseeding", is a good way to add to or improve forage in your existing pastures. Typically done in February or early March, frost seeding is simply broadcasting grass or legume seed on existing pastures when the ground is still frozen. The goal of frost seeding is to place seeds on bare soil, so although the name seems to suggest differently, do not put seed directly on the snow. The cooler the soil and air temperatures are the higher probability of frost seeding success.
Not Just One and Done
Once you lay the foundation for good spring pastures your work isn't done. You will need to make a plan to rest and rotate your pastures to prevent overgrazing. Additionally manure management will be something to consider throughout the year, one of the leading causes of uneven pasture growth and grazing is manure piles in your fields. Managing your manure will not only encourage even grazing, but also recycle nutrients into the soil. The more TLC you give your pastures the better they will treat your livestock.
Have more questions about what you should do to get ready for spring? To speak to one of our agronomists or livestock specialists in your area find your local Southern States store.