Former Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Tips for a Successful Grazing Program
• Eliminate continuous season long grazing.
• Corral livestock and feed them hay until your pasture grasses are 6" to 8" high. Remove animals when 50% of the available forage has been eaten (3" remain).
• Do not re-graze until grasses are at least 6" tall (will take 3 to 4 weeks on irrigated pasture).
• During the winter non-grazing period, hold animals in a corral.
• Allow long rest periods to rejuvenate pastures in poor conditions.
• Provide a water source for each pasture.
• Irrigate each pasture immediately after grazing to stimulate regrowth and avoid hoof compaction on wet soils.
• Horses do not need continuous access to pasture. Their nutritional needs can be met with only a few hours of grazing on a good pasture. Corrall animals for the remainder of the day to prevent over grazing of plants and avoid excess trampling of vegetation.
• On limited acreage, you may have only enough pasture to exercise your animals and will need to feed year-round.
Before starting over on a run down pasture, consider invigorating it with improved irrigation, fertilization, weed control and grazing management. If replanting is necessary or when establishing a new pasture, consider: Seed Bed Preparation - Best results come with a clean, firm seed bed. An herbicide application (broad spectrum type, such as Roundup) may be necessary prior to tillage for effective week control. Species Selection - Access to irrigation is the primary concern in determining which grass species to plant. Drought tolerant species are not as palatable nor productive but are the only realistic option when sufficient water is not available. Another factor to consider is tolerance to salinity and standing water if these conditions exist. If the site is free of these constraints, consider palatability and yield. Legumes such as alfalfa or clover are often included in pasture mixes. They may be killed by herbicides if weed treatments are needed after establishment. Planting Considerations - Pasture planting is most successful when completed from March 15 through May 1 or from August 15 through September 15. Seeding rates for most species is 15 to 20 lbs/acre. Planting depth should b e 1/4 inch. Seed planted deeper than 1/2 inch will have difficulty emerging. Many small pasture owners broadcast the seed and then lightly drag the field to establish adequate soil contact. It is recommended that single grass species or a bunch and sod forming type grass be planted. Mixtures that contain a large number of varieties tend to lose their more palatable species, because the animals preferentially graze them. many of these pastures end up being dominated by Tall Fescue because it is frequently less palatable. Legumes - A legume such as alfalfa or clover can be added to the mix at the rate of 1 to 2 lbs of seed per acre to increase forage protein and provide organic nitrogen. Grazing - New seedlings should be protected from grazing and trampling until the plants are established enough so that they will not be pulled up by grazing animals. This can be accomplished by taking one cutting of hay before allowing animals to graze. Non-irrigated pastures may require two summers without grazing.
Commonly Used Species Grasses
Meadow Brome - Sod forming, excellent palatability, strong seedlings, irrigated or non-irrigated with 15 inches or more of precipitation annually.
Smooth Brome - Sod forming, excellent palatability, weak seedlings, vigorous spreader, adapted to irrigated conditions. For grazing, plant certified endophyte-free seed.
Perennial Ryegrass - Relatively short-lived bunch grass, excellent palatability, establishes rapidly, low winter hardiness, requires high fertility, adapted to irrigated conditions.
Orchardgrass - Bunch grass, highly palatable, high producing, shade tolerant, irrigated or non-irrigated sites with 16 inches or more of precipitation annually.
Timothy - Bunch grass, traditional feed for horses, moderate palatability, moderate to high production on wet meadows. It is poor for grazing during moist conditions as many plants will be pulled out thus thinning the stand.
Alfalfa - Very productive, excellent palatability, short-lived, irrigated or non-irrigated.
Red Clover - Spreading moderate production, tolerant of wet and salty conditions.
White Clover - Spreading, high productivity, long-lived, irrigated or non-irrigated.