by Jack Kyle
Promoting good grass growth is the most im-portant part of a successful grazing program. There are many other components to a successful grazing program but improved grass growth is critical to get the most livestock production from the pasture.
If you manage the grass on your farm to get maximum growth and then optimize the harvest of this growth, you will achieve excellent results. Productive pastures can produce 500 to 600 pounds of gain per acre.
With any annual crop we take great steps to get optimum growth and plant development. We select varieties, fertilize to crop needs and control pests. Harvest does not happen until the crop has reached the ideal harvest stage.
Let’s think about these same things, but from a grazing or pasture perspective …
How species are managed is as important as what species are present in the pasture. Species differ somewhat in their growth habits, but all species can provide both good quality and quantity of forage. Match your pasture management to the species present. Grasses should be grazed when the third leaf is fully emerged. This will be a different calendar date for orchard grass (early) versus brome grasses (late). Clovers and alfalfa are much earlier to break winter dormancy and will be ready to graze shortly after the grasses. Trefoil is late to break winter dormancy and consequently is not going to provide pasture until late in the spring.
Fertility is important for good plant growth. Grasses will respond to nitrogen applications in late spring. Livestock manure produced by the grazing animals assists in providing fertility to the pastures, and if evenly distributed across the pastures, this manure will enhance the forage growth.
The optimum harvest time for grasses is after the third leaf has emerged and before the seed head has emerged. Harvesting at this time allows for the plant to accumulate significant live- stock feed and replenish root growth and re- serves. Once the grass has been harvested (grazed), then it is time to let it regrow until it has reached the 3rd leaf stage again. This re- growth will take about 25 – 40+ days depending on the season. The regrowth will be faster in the spring with cool temperatures and adequate moisture, and slower in the heat of the summer with hot temperatures and less moisture.
Setting up a rotational grazing system with fencing allows you to manage the grass for op- timum production of forage. Consequently, there will be significantly more forage for your livestock. When livestock are being moved to fresh forage on a regular one to five day basis, a single or double strand electric fence will be adequate to control your cattle. Fencing allows you to control your livestock and prevent regrazing of areas. It is this re-grazing that limits the forage production. A well managed grazing system will provide productive pastures on your farm.
Jack Kyle, OMAFRA Pasture Specialist 705-324-5855Email: jack.kyleomafra.gov.on.ca