Summer in the Ozarks means grazing is in full swing. Anybody driving through a rural area will most likely see herds of cattle and other livestock grazing on fields of bright green grasses and other forages. As picture perfect and seemingly simplistic as this image is, it takes the producer quite a bit of work and management to keep up on the aforementioned scene – it’s not as simple as turn the cows out and leave. It requires a summer pasture management plan, which can be created with the help of your local agronomy and forage specialists.
Monitor Your Grass: The first step in your summer pasture management plan should be regular monitoring pastures. Make it part of your chores to check grass growth – keeping track of this will help prevent overgrazing.
“Producers should always monitor their pasture growth, especially if we have hot, dry weather,” advised Jill Scheidt, agronomy specialist for the Barton County University of Missouri Extension. But just what do you monitor for? Scheidt went on to explain that producers “can follow the three leaf or take half, leave half rule. Always make sure the grass has three living leaves or no more than half of the grass the cattle started with gets grazed off.”
Be Mindful of Root Growth: You can’t have good grass without good root growth. Properly monitoring pastures and not overgrazing will ensure a solid root system. Remember the take half, leave half rule.
“Root growth reduces if pastures are grazed harder than this,” said Scheidt. “If grass is grazed lower than 3- to 4-inches root growth will stop completely until the plant has recovered. Root growth is especially important during the summer as roots search for moisture and nutrients in the soil. If roots are unable to grow deeper, they will not be able to find water deeper in the soil profile for the plant.”
Clip Where Needed: While some pastures are grazed enough to keep the grass from getting too tall and going to seed, those with small numbers of livestock, may need to clip pastures in the summer to ensure superior quality grass for animals.
“It is a good idea to clip stems and heads if grass becomes too tall in order to preserve higher quality,” Scheidt advised. “As fescue matures, quality is reduced because cells have more lignin and cellulose. Higher quality is found in the leaves, so the more leaf-material, the better-quality pasture.”
Clipping can also aid in fighting summer fescue toxicity problems. “If pastures are in KY31 fescue, clipping pastures can reduce negative effects of fescue toxicosis like reduced weight gain, reduce milk production and reduced conception rates,” said Jill.
Consider the Stocking Rate: “Every pasture has a carrying capacity, which is the number of animals an area of land can support on a long-term basis without causing damage to the ecosystem. Setting a stocking rate that exceeds the carrying capacity will result in over grazing,” said Rob Cook, Noble Research Institute Pasture and Range consultant. “Simply put, if you are continuously grazing and your pastures are too short, you are over stocked. If you are using rotational grazing, rotating properly and your pastures are too short, you are over stocked. Remember that forage production for each pasture will vary based on rainfall, temperature and past management. This means a stocking rate cannot be set and forgotten. The rate must change to match current conditions. It must be flexible, not only from year to year but also throughout the year.”
Avoid Overgrazing: Overgrazing damages the forages and the soil, prevents the livestock from having superior quality forage, and can create higher production costs for the producer.
“If pastures become overgrazed, undesirable plants will take advantage of bare spots in the pasture. Not only is the amount of quality forage reduced, but the number of acres it takes to sustain livestock will increase, thus decreasing stocking rate. If pastures are overgrazed, producers may have to start utilizing stored hay sooner than expected and run the risk of low winter feed reserves,” cautioned Scheidt.