By Katherine Gathje, Interim Extension Educator
Hot and dry conditions have not been favorable for pasture growth this summer. Farmers have had to supplement pasture feeding with more dry forages than typical, putting a strain on available forages for winter feeding.
There are some pasture management practices that can be incorporated into current practices to make the most of the available pasture. The level of management depends on the amount of drought stress that the pasture has already experienced and the number and size of animals utilizing the pasture,
The most important consideration in aiding the viability of the pasture is to limit overgrazing. The amount of leaves and stems eaten above ground is almost directly proportional to the amount of root death seen underground. Therefore allowing animals to eat too much of the pasture forage will limit the ability of the plant to recover and plant density in future years.
Rotate animals to different areas of the pasture and supplement their feed with dry forage to reduce the amount of grazing required. It is recommended to keep animals off of the pasture unless bluegrass has reached four to six inches and orchard grass and tall fescue have reached eight to ten inches.
Fertility and nutrient levels should be monitored throughout the summer and into the fall. If nitrogen application is required, be sure to use a nitrogen source that will not evaporate in the absence of moisture. Added nutrients will help the plants grow roots and tillers that will help the plant retain moisture in future years..
A benefit to these dry conditions is that it is easier to harvest meadows and other grassy areas where wetter conditions are more prevalent. Harvesting these forages now will provide feed for animals later in the season and in the winter. Proper planning and management now will improve the stand for years to come.