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First Steps to Pasture Improvement

Posted Jul. 31, 2010

I recently went on a consultation visit to a producer's farm near Noble, Okla. The last time I had been on his property was 2004. Some of his bermudagrass pastures were infested with threeawn, but for the most part, they were in fair to good condition. At that time, we assisted him with fine tuning his fertilizer applications through soil testing and recommending the appropriate nutrients to apply for his production goals. We also recommended he rotate between haying and grazing on these pastures. His native grass pastures were only in fair condition, and he wanted to improve them. We recommended he rest his better native grass pastures for at least half the growing season and rest those in the poorest condition for the entire growing season, and only graze them from frost until May 1.

What a difference six years has made. His bermudagrass pastures are in excellent condition with little evidence of threeawn. They are still being managed for both bermudagrass and ryegrass for haying and grazing. The native grass pastures are in good to excellent condition and are now dominated by Indiangrass, switchgrass, big bluestem and little bluestem. Overall, his total forage production has increased significantly from 2004 to 2010.

Introduced pastures, such as bermudagrass, can be rapidly improved through proper fertility, weed control and grazing management. However, native grass pastures are a different beast altogether. When I see a native grass pasture in poor condition, I typically ask producers if it was previously used as cropland, how long it has been in its current state, what is the current stocking rate and grazing management practice, and what it has been in the past. I evaluate the resource to see if there is still any evidence of desirable plants. All of these facts are key to developing a plan to improve one's pastures and can be the difference between success and failure. However, the proper stocking rate is always first and foremost in any system of livestock management.

When our stocking rate is too high, we are destined to fail in the long run. The longer we have overgrazed a pasture, the longer it will take to recover. If a pasture has been in cropland for many years and is now being managed for grazing, there may be little seed left in the soil to produce desirable plants, and it may be necessary to add seed to the system. If the pasture has not been cropped and there is evidence of desirable plants, simply incorporating periodic rest may be sufficient to improve the condition of the range.

For a simple review of management guidelines to assist you with improving pasture condition and optimizing forage utilization, please see Management Guidelines Can Help Improve Pasture Condition, Optimize Forage Utilization.

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