Proper grazing management provides at least three important benefits to livestock producers; healthier livestock, erosion control, and cleaner water running off the farm. Start with the basics – take a soil test every other year and follow the recommendations. Don’t just arbitrarily apply a certain amount of fertilizer on your fields because it’s what you’ve always used. The only way to know what your soil needs and what your plants will use is to test your soil. Over-fertilizing wastes money and can lead to water pollution. Under fertilizing can limit forage production. What about Ph? Most soils in Hardin County are acid and need to be limed every 3 to 4 years. Low Ph (acid) soils tie up nutrients, wasting fertilizer dollars. The Hardin County Soil Conservation District has a lime spreader available for rent if you need one. Of course, pastures need a good stand of grasses and legumes established and maintained before a fertilizer program can increase production. No-till drilling is usually an effective way to renovate pastures during the proper seeding dates. Don’t overlook the value of legumes in pastures; up to 60 pounds of nitrogen can be added to the soil annually by legumes. Once you have a good stand of forage established, weed control can be as effective as fertilizer for improving forage yields. Most pasture weeds can be managed with a $10 - $15 per acre application of herbicide. Consult with the UT Extension Service for herbicide recommendations and rates.
Rotational grazing is an important tool for not only improving livestock performance, but for maintaining a healthy stand of grass. All grass needs rest, and this can be accomplished by using grazing height restrictions of 3” for cool season grasses and 2” for Bermuda grass. Add cross-fences if you need to; it’s cheaper in the long run than reseeding every few years. Consider adding winter annuals to Bermuda pastures to increase the grazing season, reduce hay needs, and provide better ground cover in winter. Consider reducing stocking rates during times of low forage production to prevent overgrazing and soil compaction.
Maintaining a healthy sod of nutritious, palatable forage will not only benefit your livestock and your bottom line, it will also protect the most valuable resource on your farm – your soil. For more information on managing pastures and protecting soil, contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service at 731.925.3831 extension 3. Our motto is “Helping People Help the Land”.
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