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Pasture Management. Terry E. Poole Extension Agent Frederick County, MD. Why Manage Pastures?. Pastures are profitable * Grazed forage is a good, cheap feed. * Pastures are inexpensive to develop and maintain.

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Pasture Management

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Pasture Management

Terry E. Poole

Extension Agent

Frederick County, MD

Why Manage Pastures?

  • Pastures are profitable

    * Grazed forage is a good, cheap feed.

    * Pastures are inexpensive to develop and maintain.

    * Animals do the harvesting, therefore there is a reduction in the need for machine harvesting, and forage handling.

    * While on pasture, animals spread manure in the field, reducing hauling.

Why Manage Pastures?

  • Protects surface and groundwater from nutrient pollution.

    * Pastures act as a filler to screen out and trap soil particles, which contain nutrients such as N and P.

    * The captured nutrients are then utilized by the pasture plants once these nutrients have moved into the root zone of the soil.

Why Manage Pastures?

  • Reduces soil erosion

    * The above ground growth of pasture plants lessons the impact of rain drops on the soil surface and also slows down the surface runoff of water across the field.

    * Pasture plant root systems bind the soil together, thereby holding it in place.

    * Most pastures keep the soil covered year around, unlike annual crops.

Why Manage Pastures?

  • Improves forage yield and quality

    * Plants that are maintained at the optimum fertility level and are not stressed by pests or by poor grazing management will be more productive.

    * Healthy, productive plants will provide a quality product.

    * Healthy plants will have a higher nutritional value for grazing animals.

Why Manage Pastures?

  • Reduces weeds and improves esthetics

    * Weeds are opportunistic; they will move rapidly into an open area or an area occupied by a weaker plant.

    * Weeds cannot gain a foothold in a field with vigorously growing plants.

    * A clean, weed free pasture reflects well on your farm management skills and how people passing by view your farm.

Grazing Management

  • Protecting pasture plant root reserves and maintaining plants in a vegetativestate are keys to a good pasture.

  • Overgrazing reduces root reserves, which shrinks the root system and leads to fewer leaves being produced; plants also take longer to recover from grazing.

  • Under grazing reduces quality and yield as over-mature plants become less vigorous and more fibrous.

Grazing Affects Plant Growth

Wow, that stuff I learned in the pasture management class sure did work!

Forage Regrowth

Slow to recover at first

Rapid growth after recovery

Slow after rapid growth period

A Good GrazingRule of Thumb

Take half -----------------------------Leave half

  • In the long run, the animals will have more forage to graze. It is similar to priming the pump.

  • Do you drink that cup of water, or do you risk it priming the pump for an unlimited supply?

Grass Morphology

  • Each grass species tolerates grazing differently.

Influence of Stage of Growthon Plant Nutrient Content

Red Clover

Nutrients Stages of Growth

%DMLeafy Bud E. Blm L. Blm

C.P.29.3 20.519.5 14.0

P 0.32 0.250.21 0.15

K 3.48 3.172.14 1.39

Mg 0.38 0.410.37 0.43

Ca 1.38 1.311.42 1.61

Source: Forage-Animal Management Systems by Roy Blaser

Influence of Stage of Growthon Plant Nutrient Content


Nutrient Stage of Growth

%DMLeafy Boot Head Bloom

C.P. 33.9 17.6 10.1 7.8

P 0.41 0.30 0.23 0.23

K 3.90 2.86 2.47 1.87

Mg 0.21 0.19 0.13 0.14

Ca 0.47 0.36 0.26 0.35

Source: Forage-Animal Management Systems by Roy Blaser

Grazing Management Controls Plant Growth and Pasture Composition

Clover will overtake grasses

grazed down below 2 inches.

Clovers recover more rapidly

from close grazing than our

cool season grasses, allowing

a head start in growth.

Why Timely Mowing?

  • Mowing prevents plants from becoming over mature.

  • Vegetative plants are more palatable and more nutritious.

  • Mowing helps to control weeds.

  • Flash grazing can work in place of mowing to help reduce excess forage in paddocks.

  • Harvesting excess forage for hay is a good way to fully utilize forage resources.

Why Control Weeds?


  • Can get you in trouble, since some have been declared illegal noxious weeds by the State of Maryland.

  • Will make you look bad, since they reflect poorly on your management.

Why Control Weeds?

Weeds will:

  • Reduce the stand of desirable plants.

  • Reduce overall quality and yield.

  • Reduce overall animal yield.

  • Poison animals, or affect the animal product when dangerous plant species are present in the pasture.

  • Spread their seeds through manure.


  • Cultural Control

    * mowing

    * grazing

    * over seeding

    * improving fertility

Weed Management

  • Chemical Control

    * 2,4-D

    * Banvel

    * Crossbow

    * Ally

    * Stinger

    * Spike

    * Roundup

Chemical Weed ControlGrazing Restrictions

  • Ally…………………..none

  • 2,4-D…………………milk cows, 7 days+

  • Crossbow…………..milk cows, 14 days+

  • Banvel……………….milk cows, 7 days+

  • Roundup…………….livestock, 8 weeks

  • Spike…………………none

  • Stinger……………….none

Why Plant Fertility Management?

  • Soil testing forms the base of pasture fertility management.

  • Nutrient management planning not only pays, but is now the law.

  • Fertility promotes healthy forage.

  • Healthy forage resists disease and pests and speeds plant recovery.

Why Plant Fertility Management?

  • Healthy forage recovers more rapidly from grazing, stress, and winter.

  • Healthy forage is a more nutritious feed.

  • Healthy forage stands resist weed infestations.

  • Healthy forage stands produce higher yields.

  • Healthy forage stands persist longer.

Grasses Need Nitrogen Applications

  • Pure grass stands require timely applications of nitrogen (N).

  • Pastures with less than 25% legumes are considered grass pastures.

  • Pastures with 25% or more legumes do not require additional N.

  • Legumes fix N2 into a form plants can use (clovers,lespedeza, alfalfa, vetch, trefoil).

Now let’s take a look at animal grazing habits.

Animal Grazing Habits

  • Different animal species have different grazing styles.

    *cattle and horses cannot eat forage less than one-half inch tall.

    *sheep and goats can graze level with the soil surface.

    *fowl will strip the soil bare, eating everything including roots, and insects.

Animal Grazing Habits

  • Grazing animals have varied diet selections.

    *horses are picky eaters, rarely touching weeds and woody plants

    *goats prefer browse (woody plants) over grass

    Horses Cattle SheepGoats

    Forage 90% 70% 60% 20%

    Weeds 4% 20% 30% 20%

    Browse 6% 10% 10% 60%

Don’t even think about it!

Animal Grazing Patterns

  • The time spent grazing differs with animal species:

    *cattle graze about 8 hrs/day

    *sheep graze about 7 hrs/day or less

    *goats graze about 6 hrs/day or less

    *horses graze between 12 to 16 hrs/day

Animal Grazing Patterns

  • Most animals prefer not to graze when it is hot:

    *heaviest grazing occurs 2 to 3 hours after sunset

    *another preferred grazing period occurs around midnight

    *on average, 60% of grazing occurs during the day

    *the other 40% occurs during periods of the night

Animal Grazing Patterns

  • Grazing periods are not a factor of forage quality or yield.

  • Forage quality is important so that good nutrition can be obtained by the animals during periods of grazing.

Animal Water Needs

  • Grazing animals can get 70-90% of their water from lush forage, however a good supply of clean water is essential.

  • Animal water needs vary with temperature, humidity, milk production, and diet.

  • Average daily requirements:

    beef……………………………..8-10 gal/day

    milk cow…………………………. 30 gal/day

    sheep……………………………... 1 gal/day

    horses…………………………….. 8 gal/day

Why a Sacrificial Area?

  • It protects pastures from damage.

  • Sacrificial areas are for heavy use.

  • Animals are held in this area when conditions are unsuitable for the pasture.

  • It helps to minimize soil compaction and trampling of the sod.

  • It provides an area for supplemental feeding and animal management.

You cows sure make a mess!

Pasture Seeding

  • New pasture- converting a crop field to pasture

  • Pasture renovation- partial (over seeding)

    - complete (new seeding)

Pasture Seeding Considerations

  • Complete vs partial renovation

    *slope of field (erosion potential)

    *existing weed population

    *existing forage base

    *conventional or no till seeding

  • Spring vs Fall seeding

    *spring seeding can be challenging with weed competition, early heat

No Till Seeding

  • Chemically destroys existing vegetation- Roundup, Gramoxone (Paraquat)

  • These herbicides will not contaminate the soil, so seeding can be done immediately.

  • No till protects against soil erosion.

  • “Poor Man’s No Till” or “Frost Seeding”- in late winter, graze down field, over seed field (animals and weather will work in seed), keep down vegetation until new plants can compete.

Conventional Seeding

  • Mechanically disturbs soil and destroys existing plants (plow, disk).

  • Usually requires complete renovation.

  • Can be done without chemicals.

  • Requires a lot of field work and trips over the field.

  • Will bring up rocks.

  • Soil erosion is a concern.

  • Usually creates an excellent seedbed.

Pastures add to the pastoral beauty of farmland. They also help to protect the land by holding the soil in place.

Pasture Seeding Considerations

  • Can animals be removed during the renovation process and forage establishment period?

    *often the overgrazing of new seedlings results in the subsequent loss of the new pasture.

    *new seedlings need time to develop a good root system and store energy for regrowth.

Pasture Seeding Considerations

  • What is the purpose of your pasture?

  • Hay or play?

  • Will the pasture be expected to supply a significant portion of the feed ration?

  • What are your forage management skills?

  • These are questions that need to be addressed when selecting forage species to be seeded in your pasture.

Walking Your Fields Look at Your Soil

  • Previously row cropped fields *If the previous crop was corn, soybeans, or another crop that may have had herbicides applied, investigate. What was used?

    *If you can’t, be cautious. Carryover herbicides can be a problem. -consider planting a non-sensitive crop -care should be taken with liming the field (lime can release chemicals attached to soil particles)

Walking Your FieldLook at Your Soil

  • Drainage *poorly drained soils limit what you can grow

    *soils that stay wet during peak times of the year will hamper pasture rotation

    *consider these fields for hay or strip grazing

Walking Your FieldsLook at Your Soil

  • Stony *unless you like picking up rocks, consider no till establishment/renovation in these types of fields

  • Fertility

    *unless money is not a problem, consider forages with low fertility requirements and gradually add fertilizer inputs to build up your poor soil so that it can support better forages

Walking Your FieldsLook at Field Location

  • Wooded *beware of grazing in, or around wooded areas. Some poisonous plants can be found in these areas.

  • Potential Winter Pasture *fields that have natural northern wind shelter (trees, hills), or are adjacent to a barn are good.

    * winter pastures need to be visible

Walking Your FieldsLook at Field Location

  • Slope * consider soil erosion potential if you need to renovate the field

    * the use of no till, forage selection (fast germinating species), or a nurse crop can minimize soil loss

    * will the slope limit the use of field equipment?

Walking Your FieldLook at Existing Vegetation

  • Forage base *unless money is not a problem, try to work within the existing forage base. *if it has been there awhile, it is adapted to your site. *over seeding can improve on the existing forage base.

Walking Your FieldLook at Existing Vegetation

  • Reclaiming a field *if a field is wild, or grown up in weeds, regular mowing will do wonders to reclaim an area.

    *spot treatment for perennial weeds may be needed.

    *if the field is still too trashy after mowing, reseed it. Natural regeneration is very slow and inefficient in this region.

Walking Your FieldsLook at the Fences

  • Existing fences *unless the existing fence is too decayed or simply cannot be worked into your plan, use it.

    *in some cases you will need to clean out trees, bushes, and weeds from around old fences

    *do not forget about gates; they need to be wide enough for equipment to pass

Thank You

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