Farm Facts and Furrows

by OMAFRA Ag Rep Brian Bell

Putting Livestock to Pasture

Here are some suggestions to consider before putting livestock to pasture: When grass starts to green up we are tempted to open the gates and let them go! For some farmers it was a long winter of chores, birthing etc. with relief in sight. Farm situations are a little different from year to year and farm to farm. Whether you have an “open the gate” method or an intensive management system consider the following to best utilize early and late season growth. Consider the best time to turn livestock out to pasture for your management. For more traditional pasturing where animals roam the entire area and plants have no scheduled rest periods, give the new growth an opportunity to get started. Plants require leaves to build up root reserves in order to continue sending up new growth after each bite. Early plant harvest by the animal can weaken the plant’s future growth potential. Three or four inches of growth is minimum. This means feeding hay in the wintering area during a cold wet spring. If hay is scarce holding livestock back is less attractive. For a livestock farmer with a pasture rotation system it is important to start early once growth is evident. Under this system livestock are rotated from field to field with rest periods for each field. This allows plant growth time to recover following grazing. The challenge with intensive management is to keep ahead of the growth in the next field. It requires an earlier spring turn out. Usually in the spring there is lush pasture growth. Moisture and heat is ideal for grass species in particular. While adding fertilizer, let’s try to make best use of fertilizer dollars. Grass (but not legumes) responds to applications of nitrogen providing a burst of lush growth with adequate rainfall. Rapid spring growth doesn’t require this extra boost. For grass pastures an application of nitrogen in mid to late June when growth is beginning to slow down will give that extra flush. Again, assuming there is rainfall. Some farmers follow up with a second application in late August providing grass growth into the fall. Up to 50 lbs of nitrogen could be applied each time. This split application provides more bang for the buck compared to applying up to 100 lbs at one time. Again, keep in mind that a pasture made up of over one-half legumes like trefoil, white and white clover and alfalfa will not have the same growth response. There is less return to the money invested in this situation. A soil test about every three years will provide guidance for fertilizing heavy legume pastures.