The calendar year is nearing its end. And that means it’s a great time to start thinking ahead to next year.
Why not wind down things down with plans to make your grazing spots healthier for next spring? There are some tips for pasture management in the fall.
Walk Your Pastures
Pick a day with decent weather so you’re not rushed. Walking your pastures with a critical eye allows you to get an overall appraisal of how they’ve been utilized over the past year.
Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- How tall is the grass?
- What is the grass-to-weed ratio?
- What weeds are present?
- Are certain areas over- or under-grazed, and can you tell why?
- Are there low-lying areas with poor drainage? Tricky areas with rocks or dips? Signs of erosion? Gopher or sink holes or other dangers lurking underneath?
Depending on your acreage and the number and species of animals on your farm, you may have one or two large pastures or several smaller areas, or perhaps a combination of both.
Typically over the course of a year, animals are rotated from pasture to pasture to give the grass a break and re-grow. If this is your practice, how has it worked this year?
If grass is grazed below 3 inches, this is generally considered over-grazed. This is bad for a couple of reasons:
- It exposes your animals to greater numbers of infective parasite larvae, as roundworm larvae like to hang out mostly in the lower parts of a blade of grass.
- Second, overgrazing is damaging to the grass itself, robbing the leaves of essential nutrient reserves that the plant needs to grow back as healthy as it was before.
Winter, when you’re likely to be supplementing with hay, is a good time to plan new pasture rotation schedules if your pasture assessment indicates this is needed.
If you have pastures that are coming off a rest period and have considerable grow back, congratulations! Now might be the time to give it a mow down to 3 to 4 inches in height.
Test Your Soil
Here’s where the science geeks get excited. Most agricultural state universities have soil testing options. Contact your extension agent for sample requirements.
It is generally recommended to test your soil every two to three years for parameters such as pH and nutrient levels. Go over your results with your extension agent, as the results may indicate you need to fertilize, add lime or pursue other management options.
Doing so will ensure your pasture is providing the healthiest, most nutritious forage to your animals.
Fall is a good time to re-seed a pasture. However, this isn’t as easy as it sounds.
If you’ve determined a pasture needs re-seeding, be aware that animals really shouldn’t graze on it for about a year in order to give the new plants time to establish hearty roots.
If you can spare a pasture, great. Testing your soil before seeding is beneficial to see if it needs any fertilization, and talk with an extension agent on which type of forage will grow best for your area and the livestock you have.
If you can’t spare the pasture, consider blocking off a section to re-seed, if needed.
In the summer months on smaller lots, a common pasture management practice is to drag the pasture in order to break up manure piles. This exposes parasite eggs more efficiently to the hot summer sun, which dries them out and helps minimize the potential infection rate to your animals.
It also helps fertilize larger areas of the pasture.
However, as the months get cooler and wetter, dragging a pasture may actually contaminate the grass further as you spread out the manure and the parasite eggs along with it. So depending on your local geography, think closely about the time of year before dragging.
Even if you don’t take any action on your pasture this fall and winter, taking a closer look at where your animals spend the majority of their time can be illuminating from a health and safety point of view.