Dr. Chris Teutsch, UK extension forage has some recommendations for managing pastures this summer.
First is setting a sustainable stocking rate. Setting the proper stocking rate, defined as animals per acre per year, is a primary determinant in grazing system success. A stocking rate set too high will result in the degradation of the entire grassland ecosystem. A stocking rate set too low will result in wasted forage and decreased profitability. In addition, stocking rate also impacts the amount of conserved forage that will be needed. A stocking rate set too high will result in less grazing and more hay feeding.
Stocking rate depends on many factors such as forage species, soil type, soil fertility level, and grazing management. In general, supplying each cow calf unit with 2 to 3 acres of grazable pasture is a good place to start. In most cases it is better to start with a lighter stocking rate that can be gradually increased as soil fertility increases and grazing management improves.
Grazing management. Controlled grazing or rotational stocking is a management practice that allows producers to determine how closely pastures are grazed and how long they are rested between grazing events. Leaving residual leaf area and resting pastures between grazing events allows pastures to regrow quicker and produce up to a third more forage in a given grazing season (Sollenberger, et al., 2012). Some forage species are better adapted to close and frequent grazing than other.
Soil fertility. The soil fertility can have a profound impact on both the productivity and botanical composition of pastures. When fertility is low, improved forage species such as tall fescue and orchardgrass and red and white clover become less productive and weed species that are better adapted to lower fertility fill in the gaps. Fertilizer and lime applications always should be based on a recent soil test. If money is limited, apply lime if needed. Lime not only reduces soil acidity, but also makes nutrients in the soil more available to plants.
Hay and silage remove large quantities of nutrients. In contrast to grazing, making hay or silage removes large quantities of nutrients. These nutrients must be replaced to maintain soil fertility, and stand health and productivity. Each ton of hay removed from a field takes with it approximately 15 lb of phosphate and 50 lb potash. In a good year a tall fescue clover mix may yield 4 tons per acre and remove 60 lb phosphate and 200 lb of potash.
Successful pasture management requires an integrated approach that involves the soil, plant, and animal. This means we need to select well adapted forage species and manage them in a manner that creates a healthy and vigorous sod that excludes weeds from our pastures. When we combine this with clipping and the judicial use of herbicides, we will have a winning combination.
Forage Quote of the Month. Our forage quote of the month comes from Lauren Peterson as stated in Forage-Livestock Quotes and Concepts Volume 2: “Leaving new bales in the field is like leaving dirty dishes in the sink. Sure, it’s convenient at the time, but in both situations, after a while they begin to stink.”
Hay will never be in a better nutritional state than the moment it is cut. It simply deteriorates from that point. The only thing you can then control is getting the hay baled, out of the field and into good storage conditions as rapidly as possible.
However, it is important to be certain that hay reaches a safe moisture level and internal temperature before moving it to storage to avoid spontaneous combustion. Otherwise, fire can occur in hay stored outside or in a barn. Of course with all the rain this spring, getting hay baled in a timely manner has been tough at best. Thus the reason, baleage has become so popular.