Plan your pastures and extend the grazing season

May 9, 2014
by WLJ

— Learn how to add grazing days to the operation

Give or take, spring is “green-up” time for grazing operations. The day the gate opens from the winter drylot is the most enjoyable day for many grazers. This begins the season when the livestock work for the producer instead of the other way around.

Considering current prices for forages and limited hay acres in Michigan and other areas of the country, Michigan State University Extension suggests a few management decisions that should be included in a grazing plan to better manage and extend grazing opportunities.

• Manage turn-out around the conditions, not the calendar. The spring of 2014 will require patience as forage growth is about 10-14 days behind schedule.

• Set paddock rotations for a quick pass across all paddocks. Twenty days is a good goal for the first full rotation.

• Till sacrifice paddocks or wintering lots where sod is destroyed and plant annual forages or cereal grain for grazing later in midsummer. Consider replanting those areas to fall brassicas or combined cool season annuals for grazing after fall pastures go dormant.

• Plan to acquire hay supplies early in the season. Farms that bought hay in the winter within the past two years paid significantly higher prices. This trend will likely continue until hay acres and supplies recover.

• Consider crop residues, either grazed or mechanically harvested, as a portion of winter forage supply. This will reduce hay needs and could possibly maintain or grow your livestock numbers. Ration balancing is recommended when incorporating crop residues into cattle diets.

• Take soil samples and fertilize as needed to reach forge yield goals. — Kevin S. Gould, Michigan State University Extension Beef Educator