The effects of the 2018 drought can continue to linger into the new growing season

The 2018 drought wreaked havoc on pastures in the Ozarks. At this point, the drought is over, there is still much work to be done to help pastures recover before turning out livestock for spring grazing.

Test Don’t Guess: Soil fertility needs to be evaluated prior to starting a pasture recovery program. Guessing what the soil might need is ineffective and a waste of time and money.

“The best thing to do after a drought is the same thing to do anytime you want to manage your pastures; take a soil sample,” Jill Scheidt, agronomy field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, advised. “Take samples every three to five years to determine nutrient needs of each paddock. Those with the lowest fertility levels will respond the most to fertilizer applications, and correct pH is key in a cropping and grazing system to making nutrients available for plant uptake.”

Don’t Overgraze: Most producers get excited when the first shades of green start appearing in pastures. While it can be tempting to turn livestock into the green fields, caution needs to be taken on already fragile pastures.

Producers should be prepared to limit spring grazing and to continue feeding hay and/or other feedstuffs while pastures recover.

“It is best to let grasses get off to a good start before grazing begins. Pastures are still recovering from the drought, do not overgraze,” Scheidt said. “Do not graze cool season perennials, like fescue, shorter than 3 to 4 inches. Once grasses get shorter than that, root growth slows or stops; remember root growth is very important for a forage’s ability to withstand and recover from a drought situation.”

Forage professors from the University of Arkansas recommended that during and after recovery, graze the best pastures last. This practice will help ensure the best pastures continue to be the best pastures. Grazing too soon before adequate recovery will cause stand thinning, weed encroachment and decline of pasture condition.”

Watch for Weeds: Many pastures around the Ozarks have bare patches, either from overgrazing or the forages simply dying. These types of conditions often encourage weed growth, many of which have no nutritional value and can outcompete forages for grazing. “If there are bare or thin spots present, weeds may take advantage in those areas and sprout. Correctly identify the weed before making a management decision so the most effective action is taken to control the weed,” Scheidt explained.

Professionals from a local extension office can help classify different types of weeds so producers can develop a strategy to neutralize them.

Add Warm Season Forages: Adding additional forage in the form of warm-season grasses can help preserve cool season grasses like fescue and help develop more drought resistant pastures for the future.

“If you are thinking about adding warm-seasons, I would suggest making a few separate paddocks of warm season grasses. Be aware that warm seasons have slightly different management than cool season and weed control during establishment is key for success,” Scheidt said.

Late April through June is the ideal planting window for most of these grasses.

“A dedicated warm-season paddock is a great way to rest cool season grass paddocks, during those hot, dry months when they go dormant. If the producer does not have a novel endophyte fescue, using warm season paddocks during the summer is another way to reduce the effects of fescue toxicosis,” Scheidt added.


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