‘F’ steps can improve pastures

Feed cost is the biggest expense for cow-calf producers. As such, getting more production from pasture, and extending the pasture season, can reduce cost and improve cow body condition for milk production, calving, and re-breeding.
Old pastures can be improved by a combination of rotation, fertilizing, and perhaps adding new plants if needed. It is generally not necessary nor economical to work up run out pastures and plant a pasture crop.
Every farm situation is different. In some situations, pasture improvement will cost money but not provide a return. There should be an increased gain per animal or per acre, the ability to carry more livestock on the same acreage, or reduced winter-feed costs.
It is easiest to move ahead one step at a time. The most difficult part is having the right number of animals to keep up with lush growth in the spring.
By moving slowly with changes, livestock numbers can be increased or pasture area decreased over time.
Information is gained through experience. The following are the three “F” steps which can lead to improved pastures:
Divide the pasture into a number of small fields. After all, two fields are better than one (this is a project for the first year).
Electric fencing is the only choice in many areas.
Move livestock from field to field. This allows each field an opportunity to rest and re-grow.
Animals are less selective about what plants they eat. Fields are grazed more uniformly. This helps control weeds, and it changes the mixture of grasses and legumes in the pasture.
Legumes like white clover, red clover and alike often appear.
The response to fertilizer on old pastures can be dramatic, especially to nitrogen (it might be wise to wait until year two to fertilize).
Ideally, fields should be soil tested for phosphorous and potash. Limit nitrogen to 50 pounds per acre with the first application.
Over a few years, livestock put back nutrients with manure under pasture rotation, which then reduces fertilizer costs.
•Frost seed
Adding a legume to the pasture increases nitrogen, increases feed value, and provides mid-summer growth. It also reduces the need for nitrogen fertilizer.
This is a third-year project.
Legumes, in general, have deeper roots than grasses, providing grazing in dry times. Again, re-seeding should be done without working the soil.
Frost seeding is your first choice. Adding seed to the salt and mineral mix, or topping off each load of manure with a few pounds of seed, are other ways to encourage legumes to become established.
Trefoil and white clover are the most common legumes in pastures. Red clover will establish quickly.
Working the soil encourages weed growth, takes land out of production, and is costly. In rough land pastures, it is difficult to use equipment.
Following these steps will improve the quality of old pastures at a reasonable cost. Start planning now—and let the livestock do the work.

Posted in Uncategorized