Hay and Pasture – Don’t Forget the Basics
Are your pastures and hay fields yielding like they should? Or have you seen production fall off in recent years? Pastures and hay fields are important for any grazing animal operation. Better pasture and hay production means less purchased feed, and this means more money in your pocket. Well-maintained pastures also protect natural resources through prevention of erosion and manure runoff. It’s not too late to evaluate forage stands and make decisions now that will increase your production in 2018. These are things to consider:
Are your pastures overgrazed?
Grazing or mowing fescue and orchard grass below a 4-inch height greatly reduces its ability to regrow. Rotate animals to new pasture area before they overgraze. Ideally a pasture rest period of 28 days allows it to regrow sufficiently. Of course, the number of days varies with the season and rainfall, so your eye is critical in deciding when pastures should be rested and when they need to be grazed. Check your mowing equipment height, too, as some can cut lower than 4 inches.
How long has it been since you fertilized pasture and hay fields?
Some nutrients are returned to the soil on pastures through manure. For hay fields, every time you cut hay you are taking away nutrients. Unless you soil test and apply nutrients as recommended, expect pastures and hay fields to decline.
Are you counting on clover or alfalfa to provide nitrogen for companion grasses in a field?
If the answer is yes, remember there must be at least 25% clover or alfalfa in the stand to provide enough nitrogen for companion grasses. I’ve seen some fields where producers thought there was adequate clover, but the grass clearly showed a nitrogen deficiency. If you’re not sure, contact me to visit and survey clover/alfalfa populations. There’s a scientific method for doing this that will be more accurate than just walking the field.
Are you managing pasture and hay to keep it vegetative?
Keeping forages vegetative means two things. First, quality of the forage is higher when vegetative (not flowering/producing seed heads), and second, grasses produce new stems from the base during this stage vs. producing a seed head. These new stems are how grass grows outward, fills in, and yields more for grazing or hay. A thick stand of forage helps keep weeds from moving in, too.
Are stands thinning?
If so, consider reseeding. Test soil and amend as needed. Weed control may be necessary, depending on populations and time of the year. The Grain and Forage Crop Guide provides seeding rates, depths, and best planting times.
Do you need help getting pastures and hay fields back into shape?
The best thing about being an Agriculture Agent is helping people solve problems. I’m available to look at pastures and fields with you to talk through options for improvements. All you have to do is call and set up a time.
Written by Traci Missun, Oldham County Agriculture & Natural Resources Agent.