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Grazing Early to Manage Weeds in Warm Season Grass Pastures

Photo courtesy of the ARS Photo Gallery
Photo courtesy of the ARS Photo Gallery

A recent article in Nebraska Ag Connection by Bruce Anderson, an extension forage specialist describes how grazing early can be a good tool for managing weeds in native, warm-season grass pastures. He notes that while herbicides and prescribed burning can control many early weeds, grazing them might be better because it costs nothing, and doesn’t impact any other growth you might already have in your pastures. Anderson suggests an added benefit from weed-grazing, saying “It may save you from feeding expensive hay and let you wait before turning out onto pastures stressed from last year’s drought.”

Anderson’s suggestion for what he calls “Pre-season grazing” comes with some cautions to make sure you don’t harm your summer grass. Stop grazing before new grass shoots get more than a couple inches tall.  The time of year this happens depends on your location and the seasonal temperatures. In Anderson’s home state, this happens in late April or early May in southern Nebraska, and later the further north you get in the state.

Pre-season grazing can remove the previous year’s growth to start the process of recycling nutrients trapped in old plant tissue.  It also prevents weeds from getting a growing head start so that they don’t shade out or smother early growth of pasture grasses.  Anderson says the only down side you might find is the work associated with getting fences and water ready earlier than you normally would.  It might be something you’ll want to do yearly, since the weeds will be back next spring thanks to their resilient seed bank.    But thanks to the good nutritional value of weeds, you might find it “pretty timely and valuable pasture,” says Anderson.  “Give pre-season grazing a try, I think you’ll like it.”

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