Summer is in full swing now and brings with it much to enjoy. But in between those cookouts, trail rides and county fairs, the pastures on your farm are changing. Gone are the lush days of spring. The long, hot, dog days of summer mean changes in the environment at muzzle level for our grazing livestock species. Here are some things to consider when looking at your pastures over a cool glass of your favorite beverage for the next few months.
1. Monitor “Vitamin G” — Grass
Grass, the roughage that has probably been the majority of your livestock’s diet the past few months, might start to dwindle in mid- to late summer, depending on your weather. Hot, dry days can quickly turn a green field brown, leaving your cattle, horses, sheep, goats and camelids in need of extra calories. Hay supplementation, especially toward the end of summer might seem odd (and frustrating, for sure) but sometimes necessary.
Watch your greenery, and put a hand on your animals periodically to gauge their weight. Additionally, as grasses mature over the season, their protein content diminishes. If you have breeding animals or young, growing animals on your farm that require extra protein, consider getting your pasture tested and, if low, supplementing with another protein source.
2. Manage Pasture Manure
Depending on the size of your pasture and how many animals graze on it (a concept called stocking density), you might have to think about manure. Many gut parasites (worms) hatch from eggs passed in the manure. These eggs develop into larvae, crawl onto blades of grass and are ingested by unsuspecting livestock. If your summers are scorching and dry, this can be enough to desiccate the eggs and prevent hatching. But warm, humid environments are prime for pasture parasites.
Decreasing stocking density helps decrease the exposure of animals to manure piles. If you can’t do this, rotating pastures helps. Go by the three-inch rule: most larvae occupy the first two inches of a blade of grass; move animals to a new field or section of field when grass is grazed to a length of three inches. This helps prevent the animals’ ingestion of the infective larvae. Another consideration: Remove some manure periodically from the pasture. Although this can be very labor intensive, it also helps with fly control.
3. Beware Toxic Weeds and Downed Trees
As grass dwindles, weeds can take over a pasture. With little forage, sometimes animals are tempted to try these new and abundant plants. Pasture toxicosis is more common in late summer months than other times of the year for this reason. Work with your local agricultural extension agent or veterinarian to learn what toxic plants are common in your area, how to identify them and how to get rid of them.
Summer can also bring severe storms, which might mean downed trees in pastures. Cherry trees and red maple trees in particular are ones to remove immediately if down in a field. Wilted leaves from both these trees are lethal to livestock, especially horses, when ingested.
4. Maintain Fencing
Heavy storms as well as heat and humidity can damage fencing over time. Routinely watch for broken or loose boards as well as nails and sagging wires. Washout around posts can also be an issue. And of course animals leaning against fences, or pushing under them for the proverbial greener grass on the other side, make regular maintenance necessary.
5. Ensure Access to Adequate Water
If your animals rely on natural water sources in the field such as streams, creek beds and ponds, do you know if or when these dry up? If they do go dry in a hot summer, do you have enough backup water access for all animals in the field? These sorts of things can be easy to forget, especially if the most recent image of natural water on your property was a rushing torrent in the spring. Activities upstream you don’t know about can also affect flow and quality of the water. As with fencing, routine monitoring of water access is a good habit to maintain, especially in the summer.