Don’t rush grazing and create problems

Tony Nye - OSU Extension

Well, I think I can say our 2018 cropping season has come full circle into 2019. I say that because I have a neighbor trying to get his last field of corn harvested and I saw on social media where we had the first soybeans planted in the Clinton County area for 2019.

Now, don’t get all crazy like. There were only a few bags of soybeans planted and they were planted into a growing cover crop. The person noted that they want to see what may happen.

It sounded like they were planted relatively deep so I do not expect quick emergence even if we do keep getting nice mild and sunny days. I also believe they want to see if the cover crop can protect them once emerged if we get a frost.

Now that the producer has my attention, I am planning to try to keep informed as to what happens. This is not the first time to plant crops in March and I am sure it won’t be the last. Sometimes in agriculture we need to do some on-farm trial and error.

In this situation, some might think crazy, others may think progressive. I am probably more amazed the field conditions allowed for the individual to plant the beans.

The more milder weather lately gives me hope that the planting season is near and Old Man Winter has had his last fun until next winter, but keep in mind this is Ohio and weather can change at any given moment.

For the livestock producer, especially those with forage loving livestock, a word of warning to not get in a hurry and rush grazing on our pastures.

Chris Penrose, OSU Extension educator in Morgan County and a member of the OSU Beef team, gives warning about when to start grazing. One goal he says with his own cattle grazing over the years is to start as soon as he can.

Putting spring calving cows on stockpiled grass in early March to calve with the hope of not having to feed any more hay. Many years this works but not this year, grass is just starting to grow. The stockpile is about gone and he has started feeding them some more hay but hopes to move the group with the fall calving cows this weekend. Then he plans on starting a fast rotation around many of the paddocks and hay fields which is actually later than many years.

How many of you can relate to this scenario?

Penrose suggests we don’t rush things this year as we have a couple issues going on.

First, growth is slow this spring, and second, many pastures have sustained abnormal damage this winter from the wet conditions. If you have fields that were not grazed over the winter and are in good shape, you may be able to do a fast rotation through them when growth allows it.

However, if fields are not in good shape and growth is just starting, waiting is a better option. Grass starts growing from the roots and needs enough leaf surface to start putting energy back into the roots and if it is grazed off before this can happen, it will weaken or kill the plant.

In addition, if the field does not get enough time to recover and grow desirable grass and legumes, summer annual weeds are likely to germinate and grow in the next couple months.

How many of us had weeds like foxtail and ragweed in our fields last year? A likely contributor could be the fields were grazed too soon in the spring.

Penrose noted he plans to do a fast rotation next week with the hope that by the time that is done the spring “flush of growth” will have started.

In addition, the fast rotation will reduce the chances that the cows will graze too close, and if the ground is wet, more damage will be minimized.

You may have paddocks where you have fed hay this winter that can be a pass through with your early rotations allowing the grass pasture paddocks time to recover reducing the amount of overgrazing and added damage..

So much of this is an art based on science. Everyone’s situation is a little different, but resist the temptation if hay is running short to put cattle out on fields that are just starting to grow that have been under any stress from close grazing or winter damage.

It will allow for less hay fed in the long run and a more productive field this summer. If areas need to be re-seeded from damage, they will also need additional time to recover and grow as well.

Tony Nye is the state coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for over 30 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.

Tony Nye

OSU Extension