Instead of five tips, I can really sum this up in one statement, DON’T WASTE NITROGEN FERTILIZER! After all, nitrogen is expensive; and it is hard to justify the cost per acre, especially if the beef market happens to take a downturn sometime during the year.
Soil Test Don’t Guess
If you are not soil testing and following recommendations from a soil testing lab, you really are just guessing. Sampling and following University Extension fertility guidelines is one of the best investments forage producers can make. A soil test report will also provide lime requirements for the forages selected. A proper pH will improve the efficiency of nutrients applied to the crop. Applying fertilizer without testing and thinking about yield goals will waste nitrogen fertilizer.
Frost Seed Legumes
Most cattle producers know that legumes add forage quality to cool-season grass pastures. Spending a little money on clover seed in the spring is a very good investment and will pay off. Research shows that total yield, quality and conception rates are all improved if legumes are added to grass pasture. The real bonus is that legumes will fix free nitrogen and make the nutrient available to grass plants that share the same area of the pasture. If you are not adding nitrogen fixing legumes to your pasture, you may be wasting nitrogen fertilizer you could be getting for free.
Manage Your Grazing System
Research has shown that managed intensive grazing systems can improve forage utilization from 35 percent to as much as 75 percent when compared to open or traditional grazing systems. Not getting the most out of the forages you have spent valuable resources on is definitely wasting nitrogen fertilizer. If you are spending the money to grow the crop, use a system that will make the most of that investment. An additional benefit of a good grazing system is evenly distributed manure that helps maintain phosphorus and potassium levels throughout paddocks.
Limit Spring Nitrogen
Every spring, as soon as we start having a few warm days, fertilizer buggies start moving across Ozarks pastures. Obviously, fertilizing in the spring works. Proper nitrogen fertilizer applied in the spring will give any pasture a real jump and will grow abundant forage for livestock. Can you use all that forage? Many times stocking rates are not at levels where grasses can be grazed before they begin to go into the reproductive stage. Once a grass begins to develop a seed head the quality of the forage, therefore the quality of your feed goes down. Why purchase nitrogen fertilizer and then produce a poor quality feed? Nitrogen only needs to be applied when extra forage is needed, so use it sparingly in the spring.
Apply nitrogen late summer
Apply 40-60 lbs of nitrogen per acre around the second week of August. Although total forage production is not as high as a spring application of fertilizer, late summer applied nitrogen is a good way to get the most benefit from your nitrogen purchase.