By Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County and Buckeye Hills EERA
Summer pasture management generally requires a different mindset compared to the spring season. As both air and soil temperature increase our cool season grasses will grow slower and recover from a grazing pass slower. Just how much slower that growth and recovery is depends upon rainfall and grazing management. Up to this point at the end of June our rainfall has been good and we have even had some stretches of cooler temperatures so our pasture growth has remained good. If we get our typical July and August weather this could change quickly. I think that summer management should focus on meeting two goals: do not over graze pasture paddocks and provide some paddocks to stockpile forage for winter grazing.
The first management goal is to insure that pastures are not over-grazed. During the spring flush, pastures are growing so rapidly that the management strategy generally is to just top the grass off and keep moving quickly through the paddocks. During the summer, managers need to keep an eye on residual grass height. In other words, they need to know when to get livestock out of a pasture paddock. The goal should be to leave about 4 inches of pasture height when livestock are moved to the next paddock. On the other end, begin grazing a paddock when there is around 8 to 10 inches of forage height. Provide a rest period to allow pasture paddocks to re-grow to the 8- to 10-inch height before they are grazed again. Pasture paddocks that maintain a 4-inch residual will re-grow more quickly than paddocks grazed lower. Those paddocks have cooler soil temperatures and lose less soil moisture by evaporation as compared to paddocks grazed lower. They will be ready for another grazing pass sooner.
The second management goal is to begin to look ahead during the summer period and follow a grazing management plan that allows some pasture paddocks to get stockpiled beginning in August, or by mid-August at the latest. Stockpiling through the fall will also allow pasture plants to store adequate carbohydrate reserves for the winter period. Identify those pasture paddocks that have the best soil drainage. They will work better than poorly drained paddocks for grazing winter stockpiled forage. Remember that tall fescue is our best grass species for stockpiling if the plan is to use this forage for winter feeding, so identify pasture paddocks with a high percentage of fescue. These paddocks will also need to be clipped to remove the seed heads and reset the plant into vegetative growth.
To accomplish the goal of stockpiling, it may be necessary to include a plan to feed some hay in the late summer to early fall period to free up some paddocks for stockpiling. This may be a wise use of some low quality first cut hay that will leverage the growth of some higher quality forage for winter feeding. That low quality hay will probably be adequate to meet the needs of any livestock that have weaned their young and are now dry without any further supplementation. Feeding that same hay in the winter as gestation requirements increase and winter temperatures place additional nutrient burdens on the animal will require expensive supplementation. In most cases stockpiled forage will be adequate to meet those winter needs without supplementation. The point here is that planning and management in the summer is necessary to make this happen.