On one hand, a lot of rain has been good for pastures. On the other hand, it is causing some trouble.
“Normally, rain is a pretty good thing for most pastures. It helps keep things growing,” said Travis Meteer, a University of Illinois Extension livestock specialist. “But anytime we get out of the normal and into excess, there are issues that can arise.”
Among them is scarring of pastures due to cattle grazing when fields are wet and soft.
“Early, we had tremendous problems in pastures because of the excess rain,” said Dean Oswald, a forage and grazing specialist with Midwest Grass & Forage in Macomb. “Pastures were very wet, and livestock were pugging up pastures.”
The problem began last fall.
“Most pastures in Illinois got overgrazed in the fall, and pugged with the excess moisture we experienced,” Meteer said. “We didn’t come into the winter in great shape, and it was a terrible winter because of moisture. A lot of cows got kicked out on pasture early because of the (low) hay supply. We started out on the wrong foot, to say the least.
“Pasture production in Illinois is set up in the fall because that’s when those plants root themselves and prepare themselves to over-winter. In most parts of the state we were already starting to deal with wet conditions in the fall. Traditionally in the fall, we’re overstocked.”
The real concern was last spring. Meteer pointed out that over-grazing of forage in wet fields likely led to reduced stands.
Oswald agreed some stands were affected by spring grazing. Some producers may need to reseed.
“It’s going to reduce the stands in the pastures or paddocks,” he said. “They will need to do some additional seeding to fill in those areas, or those areas will have a lot of weed and brush growth.”
He said broadcasting seed may be not be feasible this time of year, but added producers should be able to broadcast or drill seed in a month or so. He also recommends mixing some legumes with grasses.
“It makes the pastures higher quality, increases the protein level and makes the grass grow better because the legumes serve as a source of nitrogen,” Oswald said.
Meteer said some legumes could crop up on their own.
“There are some good things that come from lots of moisture,” he said. “In most pastures we still have green grass that’s grazeable. Producers see clover — white clover — come through in a volunteer setting. Those species like the moisture. They aren’t necessarily the highest yielding. It grows close to the ground and is not good for hay production, but it’s good for grazing.”
Help is available from the federal government for producers who had severe damage to pastures from flooding or excessive rainfall. The Farm Service Agency has programs that offer payments to eligible producers for livestock death losses in excess of normal mortality due to adverse weather. A separate program provides emergency relief for losses due to feed or water shortages and other weather-related adverse conditions.
Pasture damage could carry over into the next season.
“Just like when we get a lot of rainfall in our crop fields and they crust over, we could have some aeration issues,” Meteer said. “But that’s a worst-case scenario. If producers are able to employ some rotational systems and keep stocking rates at more normal levels, likely these aren’t major issues.
“But for folks who are overstocked and maybe keep cattle in one place too long, or have a continuous grazing scenario, those likely are real problems. But we’re not in dire straits.”
He urges producers to employ a rotational grazing system that can reduce impacts of overstocking and over-grazing.
“In some sense, they can manage themselves out of these weather extremes,” Meteer said.