Fall is a busy time of year, with harvest, school activities, opening hunting seasons and the upcoming holidays. One thing that shouldn’t get put on the back burner during this time is your pasture. While cool season pastures may still have a bit of life in them, don’t forget that giving your grass a some time to recover from the stress of grazing before winter, will mean a healthier pasture next spring.
Plants that have entered winter with extra reserves are better able to recover during the spring thaw. This often means more production and better competition with weedy species next year. Many species we consider to be weeds are opportunistic plants that take advantage of available resources quicker than the species we desire. Heavily grazed pasture opens up the canopy to light and creates room for these species to get established. By maintain proper grazing pressure and providing plants with enough rest to maintain their health, the opportunities for invasion are removed. Furthermore, most desirable species in a pasture are able to outcompete the weeds if given a bit of time and maintained at proper health. In the end, that extra week of rest you give a pasture this fall may end up saving you the cost of spraying next summer.
Some plants, like most warm season species, are already or are close to going dormant for the winter. Dormant plants have shut down aboveground growth, so grazing dormant pasture won’t have the same impact that grazing a growing plant does. While not harming the plants, dormant grasses are often low in energy and protein, so grazing dormant pastures may require additional supplementation to maintain animal condition.
Pulling your animals off pasture to a dry lot or dormant pasture grazing are both viable options if you take care to feed a balanced ration and are competitively pricing feedstuffs. However, when it comes to meeting nutritional needs in a cost effective manner, that freshly harvested corn field next door is a great alternative grazing option. Managed correctly, little supplementation should be required to maintain condition on even late gestation cows.
While you’re in the process of rounding up your animals and winterizing water and fences, take a few minutes to jot down problem areas or things of interest; maybe high numbers of a certain weed in a spot or across a pasture, new plants, or even bare or over grazed patches. When you’re done, put your notes in a safe spot where you won’t lose them. Next spring you can pull them out and follow up on problem areas make quick pasture management decisions that will set you up for success next summer.
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As harvest wraps up and colder weather begins limiting outdoor activities, there are several area workshops and meetings available for those looking to learn more about cover crops (NRCS sponsored @ Crofton; Nov. 27), landlord/tenant relationships (@ South Sioux City; Nov. and @ Norfolk; Dec 3) , and animal nutrient requirements (@ Hartington; Dec 4). If you want more information on these or other area events, call your local Extension office, or the Cedar County Extension office at 402-254-6821.
-Ben Beckman is a beef systems Extension Educator serving the counties of Antelope, Cedar, Knox, Madison and Pierce. He is based out of the Cedar County Extension office in Hartington. You can reach him by phone: (402) 254-6821 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org .