Some livestock producers are facing the prospect of fixing damage done to pastures following an extended period of wet conditions.
Travis Meteer, a University of Illinois Extension beef specialist, said repair work will be necessary in some places.
“Especially after the last two years, there will be some of that,” he said. “We do have problems. In situations where it’s really poor you may need to look at some pasture restoration. Those higher-risk fields over the last two years were really wet, and guys were trying to get cows out. No doubt there are probably areas that need renovation.”
Early March is a great time for frost-seeding, said Rebecca Vittetoe, an Iowa State University Extension forage specialist in southeast Iowa.
“If there is still some frost and not snow on the ground, that’s when you want to frost seed,” she said. “You want the seed to be able to make contact with the soil.”
Later in the season, some may choose to use a no-till drill to interseed legumes into an existing grass stand.
“You don’t want the drill set too deep,” Vittetoe said. “Late March into early April is a good time for this. If it’s later and gets dry, that is going to be hard on the root system.”
She said it is a good idea to check soil fertility, especially for levels of phosphorus and potassium. She cautions against applying too much nitrogen, which could cause the grass to grow too rapidly ahead of grazing.
Too much nitrogen can also increase fescue toxicity, Vittetoe said.
Cliff Schuette, who runs beef cattle on his farm near Breese, Illinois, plans to do some repair work on his land and has seen a lot of damaged pastures in the region.
“There’s going to be a lot of it due to the wet weather and mud we’ve had for several months,” said Schuette, who farms in Clinton County in southern Illinois. “There will be some emergency crops put out.”
He plans on seeding some summer annuals after the temperature warms up, including millet, sorghum-sudan grass and cowpeas.
“The cattle are going to be there probably through April in some places,” Schuette said. “If we can, we’ll put some oats and turnips out in late March to fill in those areas before the weeds encroach.”
It is important to determine the level of damage to a pasture before making changes, Meteer said. Fields across the region are likely in various stages of condition.
“We should assess the current scenario and look at the condition,” he said. “If it’s bad, we may need to look at some renovation. If it’s fair, maybe frost seeding and timely weed control. If it’s in good shape, we may not need to do too much other than monitoring our stocking rate during the year.
“In the worst-case scenario, pastures were over-grazed last fall and the producer is starting behind the eight ball. Hopefully, they just need a basic pasture fertilizer to help stimulate new growth. Pasture in really bad shape may need to rest at the beginning of the growing season if possible.”
Pastures should be scouted for weed and brush issues before making any decisions about spraying. Vittetoe said it is more effective to spray musk and bull thistles before a flower forms on the stalk. With Canadian thistles and multiflora rose, herbicide application is more effective when the bud is near the bloom stage.
“Make sure you read the labels because there could be some restrictions as far as when cattle can graze after spraying the pasture,” Vittetoe said.
Ideally, extensive reseeding should be done in the fall. But severe cases may call for an exception.
“If it’s really bad, you can go into spring seeding, though that’s not the best for total restoration,” Meteer said. “I’ve seen spring seedings work. But probably the best advice to remedy your short-term losses is with a summer annual, then focus on a good plan for the fall. Anything you’re going to do in the spring is basically a Band-Aid.”