With spring in full bloom and summer just on the horizon, now is a great time to analyze the pasture your animals may soon graze. Though the grass might be green and the warm weather may be tempting, last year’s rough weather patterns were tough on pasture and hay fields. According to Cynthia Martel, an extension agent for Virginia Tech, it is important to consider these five tips to help ensure that your pastures thrive this grazing season:
Test Your Soil
“When was the last time you took soil samples and used the results to improve your fields?” Martel asks. If the answer is not recently, then it may be time to conduct some soil testing.
Testing your soils gives you the opportunity of knowing what nutrients your soil may or may not need. In turn, this may help prevent you from spending unnecessary money on lime or fertilizers if they are not needed. Martel suggests reaching out to a local extension agent to help get soils to a nearby testing facility.
What Species is Growing?
Another tip to help keep your pastures lush and growing is knowing what type of grass species is established. Different species of grasses have different grazing heights or cuttings, according to Martel.
“It is key to know what you are growing in order to understand how to correctly manage it,” she says.
To help prevent damage, Martel suggests not letting animals graze below 3-4 inches for cool-season grasses or 6-8 inches for warm-season varieties. If grasses are over grazed, regrowth may not occur, which could eventually cause death to the plant.
Know Your Weeds
Weed prevention is key when it comes to pasture maintenance, Martel advises. Take time to walk through your pasture and note which and how many weeds are growing. From there, identify the best method to control these nuisances.
“Consider purchasing a small, pull-behind boom sprayer for the ability to spray when the weeds are young, before they go to seed,” she says. “It is harder to kill and reduce weeds once they go to seed.”
If you are unsure what weeds are growing, Martel recommends reaching out to your local extension office for identification.
Another way to control weed presence is to use a brush-hog. Keeping pastures clipped and clean is a great way to deal with weed control, Martel suggests. Having a well-groomed pasture also keeps grasses in the vegetative state, preventing them from entering the reproductive state to use nutrients for seed production.
“The simple act of brush-hogging is important for weed management, maintaining forage quality, and reducing grazing patterns,” Martel says. “Brush-hogging after livestock have grazed and moved on to the next field can help maintain quality and reduce patterns. By clipping pastures, you reduce the tendency for animals to only graze in certain areas that they favor.”
Let the Grass Recover
One of the most important parts of keeping a dense, green pasture is knowing when to remove the animals from the field, Martel advises.
“Knowing when to stop grazing and start stockpiling a pasture can increase the grazing season and reduce supplemental feeding,” she says.
For a rotational grazing program, Martel recommends allowing 21-28 days for fields to recover and regrow. She also suggests sacrificing some lots from grazing to allow those fields to reseed themselves and reestablish native varieties.