Clipping pastures after animals graze can promote regrowth
Farmers and ranchers have many good reasons to mow the pastures their animals graze on. Whether it be for the animals’ safety or to make it easier to cut and harvest hay, they know taking the extra step to clip the pasture is always the right thing to do.
According to the University of Missouri Extension, mowing in the fall, especially in areas that are being reclaimed for pasture or forage, mowing before seeding, reduces spring growth of weeds and other plants, thus reducing competition and aiding in the establishment of new grasses.
Some grasses, including Bermudagrass, see increased yields the following season if clipped or burned in the winter months, specifically in mid-February, to remove residual, mature grass.
Brian Pugh, an Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service area agronomy specialist, said producers must always look at the animals’ needs first. They are the main reason producers take care of their pastures and grasses the way they do.
Clipping pastures after animals have been there grazing for a while is especially beneficial. It evens out the pasture and promotes regrowth of not only the grass that was heavily grazed, but the grass that wasn’t grazed as much. Mowing the pasture to an even level also reduces uneven grazing patterns in the future.
“It really is a great way to make sure there will be vegetative growth in the future for the cattle. If we don’t get the pastures evened out in the fall, the fields in the spring won’t have the vegetation the cattle need,” Pugh said.
Another important reason to mow the pasture is to prevent unwanted plants from growing, like weeds and thistles. It is important to mow at the correct time, however. Clipping before the pasture’s “rest period,” promotes growth and prevents the wrong species from taking over. The rest period is simply the time where there are no animals grazing the pasture.
Pugh said he prefers a rotational grazing and mowing system, which really helps with each of his pastures’ rest periods.
Kevin Williams, a cattle farmer, also brush hogs his land to prevent those unwelcome plants, but makes sure his pastures have a good rest period.
Williams said if he’s not careful unwanted weeds can sneak up and take over his fields. With mowing, he can easily keep this from happening. Weed suppression is a huge benefit of clipping, he said.
“We mow to control the competition of the grasses the cattle eat,” Pugh said. “These competitions can be any kind of weed or thorn, which we don’t need in the pastures.”
Pastures can also be clipped prior to opening them to grazing. This is a better option if the pasture has become too mature. Pre-mowing allows producers to stockpile hay for later in the season.
“We are able to bale hay two or three times a summer, depending on rain,” Williams said.
While harvesting hay is useful, clipping pastures has other benefits as well. The remaining clippings after a cutting help promote soil health.
“Clipping for hay can really improve the nutrients of the soil and it builds carbon – two extremely important features needed for healthy pastures,” Pugh said.
When mowing, it is important to be mindful of the mower height. Pugh said the length of cut depends on the forage species.
“We cut fescue 4 to 6 inches, white clover, and Bermuda 2 to 4 inches, and our native grasses that we don’t cut them shorter than 12 inches. Their growing points are high and use a lot of energy in the fall,” Pugh said.
Maintaining forage quality is another important practice both Williams and Pugh advise following. They advocate watching which forages the cattle choose, and they advise others to mow to promote the growth of the most productive forages in the pasture.
Pugh said if the forage is tall, the roots will be deeper. It is better to let grasses grow tall before mowing to allow their roots to grow also.
“The roots mirror the shoots,” Pugh said. “If the stems and leaves are strong and healthy, the roots will be too.”
Mowing and clipping pastures promotes livestock nutrition. Quality forages provide livestock with their vegetative requirements without the use (and expense) of supplements, and timely mowing can easily increase the nutrition of the forage even more.
“If the pasture remains vegetative because it is taken care of correctly, producers will be able to run more cattle on the land in a shorter amount of time,” Pugh said. “Beyond the livestock, the forage is my main concern. If the forage isn’t nice and vegetative, the livestock won’t (look nice) either.”