Getting Spring Pastures Ready For Cattle

When winter finally gives way to spring, it's time to get cattle pastures ready for a season of livestock grazing. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

by Ashleigh Krispense
PHOTO: Flash Dantz/Unsplash

We’ve already entered the first weeks of April, and I feel like winter has flown by! Before we know it, the hills will burst forth with new green grass. We will turn out cattle in the pastures, and windmills will faithfully stand guard as they begin once again to fill stock tanks with water. 

In a previous article, we talked about the benefits of keeping cattle out on grass as opposed to in a regular pen. We also looked at some of the qualities that make for a good grazing pasture and how to keep it up.

We won’t cover all of that again today. But let’s look at what you might need to do to prepare your pasture and make sure it’s ready to graze when you are. 

This last week, we loaded the stock trailer with four wheelers and tools, and we all piled into various vehicles and headed out to the cattle pastures east of town. Turning off the highway, we had to traverse a few miles of gravel road to reach the first pasture.

The Flint Hills are starting to transition from brown to green. But these colors are nothing near as vibrant as the occasional pasture that has already had the dead grass burned off. As the new growth begins to shoot forth, these pastures take on the look of Ireland and make for a spectacular view. 

But before you turn the cattle out on your pastures, make sure you check the following few things off your list.

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Read more: Keep these things in mind when considering putting cattle on pasture.

Removing Trees & Noxious Weeds

To keep a pasture in working order, you must regularly maintain the land. An unchecked piece of ground will quickly fill up with cedar trees until it becomes a regular Kansas forest. 

In addition to cedar trees, you’ll want to watch for certain noxious weeds are as well. A regular weed is simply a plant that grows where it’s not supposed to. An invasive weed is one that could spread aggressively and become invasive outside of its natural space.

But a noxious weed is a plant legally declared as able to cause damage to the environment (crops, natural resources, nursery plants, etc.) or injury/danger to humans or livestock. 

For example, a musk thistle, while beautiful to the eye with the spiky, purple flower it puts out, presents a nightmare for ranchers. If left unchecked, this invasive plant will spread to neighboring pastures. When we find a clump of this plant in the pasture, the lucky person that gets to clean them up dons a glove, grabs an empty feed sack, and begins tossing the seed heads into the bag for a later burning. 

Checking Pasture Fence

We also need to keep the fences strong and upright before turning out the cattle. We did this just this last week on our farm.

The guys drove around the pasture on ATVs looking for any broken wires or damage. They’d occasionally come back to the truck for more tools, then head back out to finish tying up loose ends. (Pun intended!)

As you ride around checking the fences, you can also check for any pieces of debris that might have made their way into the pasture. These could harm the cattle. 

Read more: These 9 tips will get you ready for keeping cattle on your farm.

Reviewing Water Supply

You’ll also want to make sure you have a plan for an adequate water source. If you don’t plan to haul water to the herd, make sure your windmill works properly and consistently. Or ensure your pond is fairly reliable and able to stay full for quite awhile.

Rivers and streams that cut through the property can also be a good source of water, so long as they don’t become contaminated or dry up. The last thing you want is a bunch of cattle stranded without any water during hot summer days. 

Burning the Cattle Pastures 

One of the biggest jobs the guys tackle during these early spring days is burning the pastures. Not every pasture gets burned every year. But you can determine if burning will be helpful that year or not by looking at:

  • how uneven the grass is (possibly caused by cattle grazing too heavily in a particular area)
  • length of grass
  • quantity of dead grass 

Burning not only helps clean up the grass, but it will prune back any small trees and kill the ticks or parasitic worms that might hide in the dead grass.

Sometimes you have to weigh the pros and cons of a situation. Tall grass in the pasture can be helpful for holding moisture in the ground. It can also pose a danger if a wildfire starts up. The fire will run through the pasture so quickly (due to an excess of fuel) and put the cattle at even greater danger.

Another reason to avoid tall grass? It can poke, scratch or irritate their eyes to the point they can no longer see. 

As the grass begins to grow back after spring burning (and hopefully a nice rain), it will come in lush and beautiful. Before you know it, you’ll be turning a trailer-load of cattle out into a clean, ready-to-graze pasture.

Stay diligent as you check back in on them. But with plenty of fresh water, the right environment and little-to-no illness, you should see a successful grazing season. 

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