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By Sarah Kenyon
University of Mo. Extension
Water supplies were limited last fall, which restricted forage production and resulted in higher winter feed costs. However, in a spring following a drought, grass plants are still suffering from last growing season’s water shortage. Even though it is tempting to graze newly-green pastures quickly, it is best to wait for plants to recover.
In the fall, grass plants go through two very important processes: 1) production of new tillers 2) development of roots. Last fall’s drought will result in fewer tillers produced per plant which may contribute to thinner stands. More importantly, the plants root system will be weaker.
Cool-season grasses (tall fescue, orchardgrass, bromegrass, and others) that are grazed heavily this spring, following the drought, will have a lower total forage yield. The reduced season-long yield will also result in a lowered carrying capacity. Delaying grazing by two weeks will allow forage plant to recover.
It is tempting to graze pastures when there is only a small amount of regrowth. Continually removing regrowth reduces root carbohydrates and inhibits the plants ability to regrow and persist. Being patient and allowing the forage to recover from the drought stress will provide more forage for grazing in the long term. Usually, grazing begins when the plant is at the three-leaf stage (approximately 6 inches tall); delaying grazing to the four-leaf stage (approximately 8 inches tall) will provide adequate rest for recovery without sacrificing forage quality.
Here are my tips for successfully managing spring pastures after a drought:
* It is important that stressed pastures receive adequate fertility before grazing. If pastures are low in fertility (low pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium) this will add a secondary stress and pasture production will suffer further losses. Fertility should be verified by conducting a soil test. Soil testing equipment is available at your local Extension Office.
* Delay grazing allowing pastures time to recover sufficiently; graze once grass plants reach the 3 1/2 to 4 leaf stage. A sacrifice paddock may be needed to allow remaining pasture time to recover. Grazing too early following a drought can also stimulate weed problems.
* Critically assess each pasture, if pastures are too stressed or thinned, renovation should be considered.
* Adopt management practices that increase organic matter. Soils with higher organic matter will hold more water, and slowly release that water to neighboring plants.
For more information or questions, contact Agronomy Specialist Sarah Kenyon 417-778-7490 or KenyonS@missouri.edu.