This article comes to us from the Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma. It addresses management of forages common to some of our readers. If your forages are different, consider what this kind of management might do to help your pastures, but consult a staff person from your local extension, Natural Resource Conservation Service or Conservation District Office.
Here are some general management strategies for maintaining or improving the condition of your pastures while optimizing forage utilization by livestock. Those of you who have both introduced pastures (such as bermudagrass or plains bluestem) and native grass pastures have the luxury of lengthened rest periods on your native grass pastures.
Management of Nativegrass Pastures
Full-season rest (May 1 through November 15) should be applied to pastures in poor to fair condition where maximum recovery is desired. These pastures should be rested from May 1 to November 15 and used as a standing hay crop with protein supplement from November 15 to May 1. It is still important to maintain a minimum residual height of 6 inches. If brush encroachment is a problem, consider prescribed burning during the dormant season to control woody plants. Be prepared to reduce your stocking rate to accommodate the reduction of available forage if you burn.
Half-season rest (May 1 through July 15 or July 15 through November 15) should be applied to pastures in good condition but where an improvement in condition is still desired. This does not mean you will be continuously grazing these sites the full length of the allowable grazing period. Rather, you will most likely utilize the forage in one to two grazing events allowing 30 to 90 days rest between grazing events. Do not graze below a 6- to 8-inch minimum height at any time during the growing season, and do not graze below 10 to 12 inches during the dormant season where optimum wildlife habitat is desired. Half-season rest may also be applied to pastures in good condition but where periodic burning is necessary to suppress woody plants or alter species composition for wildlife habitat manipulation.
Management of Bermudagrass Pastures
Bermudagrass pastures should be fertilized in the spring and can be grazed any time during the growing season. However, for optimum plant growth and recovery, it is important to leave at least 4 to 6 inches of bermudagrass in the pasture after each grazing event throughout the growing season. This can best be accomplished by rotating your livestock from pasture to pasture. The recovery period after each grazing event may range from 30 to 60 days depending on the time of year and how fast the grass is growing.
Also, we encourage you to promote ryegrass production on some of your bermudagrass pastures to extend the season and quality of grazing, especially if you are calving in February, March and April. A good rule of thumb is to produce one acre of ryegrass per cow unit. Simply broadcast 15 to 20 pounds of ryegrass/acre with starter fertilizer (18-46-0) in October and topdress in February (50-0-0). Seed ryegrass every third year if needed and rely on volunteer growth the other two. This program may not be necessary if you have substantial acres of farmed winter pasture.