Thursday, June 13, 2024
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First Steps to Pasture Improvement

This article comes to us from staff at the Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma.

I recently went on a consultation visit to a producer’s farm near Noble, Okla. The last time I had been on his property was 2004. Some of his bermudagrass pastures were infested with threeawn, but for the most part, they were in fair to good condition. At that time, we assisted him with fine tuning his fertilizer applications through soil testing and recommending the appropriate nutrients to apply for his production goals. We also recommended he rotate between haying and grazing on these pastures. His native grass pastures were only in fair condition, and he wanted to improve them. We recommended he rest his better native grass pastures for at least half the growing season and rest those in the poorest condition for the entire growing season, and only graze them from frost until May 1.

What a difference six years has made. His bermudagrass pastures are in excellent condition with little evidence of threeawn. They are still being managed for both bermudagrass and ryegrass for haying and grazing. The native grass pastures are in good to excellent condition and are now dominated by Indiangrass, switchgrass, big bluestem and little bluestem. Overall, his total forage production has increased significantly from 2004 to 2010.

Introduced pastures, such as bermudagrass, can be rapidly improved through proper fertility, weed control and grazing management. However, native grass pastures are a different beast altogether. When I see a native grass pasture in poor condition, I typically ask producers if it was previously used as cropland, how long it has been in its current state, what is the current stocking rate and grazing management practice, and what it has been in the past. I evaluate the resource to see if there is still any evidence of desirable plants. All of these facts are key to developing a plan to improve one’s pastures and can be the difference between success and failure. However, the proper stocking rate is always first and foremost in any system of livestock management.

When our stocking rate is too high, we are destined to fail in the long run. The longer we have overgrazed a pasture, the longer it will take to recover. If a pasture has been in cropland for many years and is now being managed for grazing, there may be little seed left in the soil to produce desirable plants, and it may be necessary to add seed to the system. If the pasture has not been cropped and there is evidence of desirable plants, simply incorporating periodic rest may be sufficient to improve the condition of the range.

Here’s a simple review of management guidelines for native and bermudagrass pastures to assist you with improving pasture condition and optimizing forage utilization.



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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. I think we are finding out in the Texas Gulf Coast region that all Bermuda grass is not created equal and the amount of rest required to optimize animal performance, production goals, and plant vigor can vary greatly based on the species and growing conditions. I know of one producer that had been given the advice to extend his rest periods to 80 days on a coastal/tifton 85 mix to improve grass production and had a wreck with his cows. He now uses rest periods as short as 14 days under favorable growing conditions when grazing periodically at 200,000lb/ac stock density worm multiple moves per day and only taking the top 30% of the forage and his pastures are continuously improving and his animals maintain body condition. On the other hand, I have grazed a naturally occurring lower producing Bermuda hybrid that was rested for 90 days utilizing about 75% of the forage with protein supplementation with very little loss in animal condition.

    My experience has been that most Bermuda hybrids have a low nutritional value after resting 60 days. I have seen tifton 85 grow 2 inches in one day under container grown conditions, so very short rest periods are required for tifton 85 under very favorable growing conditions to maintain forage quality and animal performance.

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