Renovate stressed pastures

As local farmers again struggle with where to feed their livestock to avoid excess stress on the animals from the mud and potential pollution issues from surface runoff, the rain just keeps coming.
Pasture fields repeatedly have been stressed during the past few years. The forage plants have struggled to survive the extreme conditions of droughts, floods, below-normal temperatures and hot, dry periods all within the period of a couple of years. With the soils not freezing so far this year, the foot traffic on pastures fields is really taking a toll on the forage plants and soil conditions of these fields.
Farmers will need to carefully evaluate these fields within the next few weeks and determine whether a frost seeding will be adequate to renovate the forage stand or whether a total reseeding might be necessary in some areas. If the fields are roughed up too much, it might be necessary to do some light tillage work to smooth the fields and do a complete reseeding to bring the field back to a productive and manageable condition.

Spring management will be critical in the recovery of the forage stands in many of these damaged areas. If your pastures have significant amounts of bare soil and you can live with the surface conditions, then a frost seeding of legumes when it is freezing and thawing in the next few weeks is an economical way to repair the stand. Now is the time to select and buy your seed so you are ready to go when the conditions are right.
A frost seeding is accomplished by broadcasting your legume seed on the mostly bare soil and letting the frost action work the seed into the surface of the soil.
As the weather warms up and the soils dry out, we recommend switching to a drill for making the renovations that are needed. The goal would be to get the seed from 1/4 to 1/2 inch into the soil with a firm seedbed.
Whether we are looking at the new seedlings or those recovering from several months of stress, many of the plants will be slow as they start to grow this spring. Plan now to rest your pastures between grazing events this spring and summer to allow the root reserves to rebuild and hopefully be able to sustain the plants as we go into the summer and fall months. Using temporary electric fence to establish paddocks to allow for quick rotations and long rest periods will pay big dividends later in the grazing season.
Failure to manage and improve the forages you have early in the spring can reduce total pasture production for rest of the grazing season. Grazing too much, too close or too often on the early spring plant growth will deplete the limited energy reserves. The need for early spring grazing needs to be evaluated against the requirements for a healthy forage stand and the overall long-term health of the pasture. Total leaf area, day length and sunshine intensity all effect how quickly the plant will be generating enough photosynthesis to not only maintain itself but to also start to grow and provide feed for the grazing livestock.
Patty Dyer is a district conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service.


Entradas populares