When Green Grass Grows
Replenished soil moisture is a blessing to livestock producers whose pastures and hayfields suffered in last year’s sweltering heat and bone-dry conditions. With the drought now a memory and the rain gauge overflowing, these producers may find new grazing opportunities, says Brian Pillsbury, state grazing lands specialist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Depending on your operation and objectives, 2019 may be the year to add a few animals to your herd, improve your current forages, add new forages or some combination of all of the above,” he says. “It really depends on your individual situation. Our overall goal from a conservation perspective remains the same, however. We want optimum production without degrading the pasture resource or overall environmental quality.”
While lush, green pastures are alluring, Pillsbury cautions against two temptations:
- Grazing wet pastures
- Pushing stocking rates on forages stressed by drought the previous year
“You just don’t realize how much damage those cows can do,” he says of grazing on wet soils. “If you wouldn’t put a tractor out to harvest hay, you shouldn’t be putting a mob of cattle out, either. Not until the soil is dry enough to withstand the hoof traffic.”
In regions where drought took its toll in 2018, the extra growth above the surface this spring is the perfect medicine to begin healing any damage below the surface, Pillsbury says. “You want those pastures to recover, and that can take a few months. The extra grass is good for repairing the root systems. More leaf area above ground builds stronger roots.”
In areas where drought wasn’t a factor in 2018 and adequate moisture persists this year, the subsequent additional forage is a resource that producers can utilize in several ways. For those who employ management intensive grazing, the first step is making their paddocks smaller.
“If you subdivide them further, you’re going to get better utilization of the extra forage,” says Pillsbury, noting that temporary electric fencing is an easy way to break up established paddocks. “Those grasses will still need a rest period, though, so rotating the cows through the paddocks is essential.”
While Pillsbury doesn’t advise adding momma cows to a herd just to take advantage of a flush of forage, adding seasonal animals such as heifers or stockers that will go to market at the end of the year is a definite option. Offering contract grazing to other livestock producers is an option, too.
“You can still utilize the land and the resource, but at the end of the year, you’re not permanently increasing your stocking rate,” he says.
About the author: This content was originally provided by Gallagher, with minor edits included from Valley Vet Supply.