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Spring brings opportunity to clear pastures

Spring brings opportunity to clear pastures


If livestock producers didn’t get a chance last fall, now may be a good time to do some pasture trimming.

“It’s a good idea to trim up the brush from pastures because you can get more productivity out of the ground,” said Dean Oswald, a forage and grazing specialist with the Midwest Forage and Grassland Council. “Otherwise you’ll have brush species taking over.”

Brush control is used to improve and maintain pastures as well as CRP ground, fence rows, ditch banks and riparian areas, just to name a few. Dense brush can shade out desirable grasses, reducing forage production and carrying capacity of a pasture.

An untended pasture could eventually result in the grass dying out, leaving some bare areas that invite erosion, Oswald said.

Extension educators have said that thorny brush species like multiflora rose, locust and blackberry can disrupt grazing patterns and injure animals, landowners and workers.

Fall is the best time to trim brush from pastures, but if producers didn’t get a chance then, they may want to consider cleaning up some of their fields in the spring, before growth takes off. In some cases, late summer may be a good time to clear fields.

“The best time depends on how you’re going to treat it,” said Matt Bunger, a farmer who sits on the Illinois Grassland and Forage Council. “If you cut the stump and treat it with a chemical, probably late summer to fall would be the best time, before the tree goes into dormancy. If you’re going out there with a bush hog and the tree is big enough to produce seed, you want to get it before it adds more seed to the pasture or whatever landscape you’re in.”

Bunger believes farmers should assess their fields annually, treating them before brush gets out of hand.

While some producers delay brush control for the brush to get bigger, mature brush is more difficult to control and is more likely to re-sprout and cause continued problems.

“It can be done in the fall or in the spring. It’s probably best to do that in the fall so in the spring you can concentrate if you need to do any frost-seeding or inter-seeding, you can do that when the soil conditions are right,” Oswald said. “It might be a little wetter in the spring and harder to get out there with equipment and not tear up the pasture.”

Bunger cautioned that those using a chemical application should be careful to follow the label rates.

“There’s new stuff coming out all the time,” he said.

Chemical and mechanical methods are not the only means of control available. Bunger points out that grazing is an option an increasing number of producers are considering.

“One way is looking at species to take out the brush, livestock species such as goats,” he said. “You have to have the infrastructure to keep the goats in, as well as predator control. There is getting to be a lot more of that in other states and a few in Illinois that contract out grazing for that sort of thing.”

Indeed, producers who raise animals such as goats may not desire a complete clearing of brush in their pastures.

“It depends on type of livestock that you have,” Oswald said. “Goats are the main species that eats a lot of browsed, woody species. Cattle, on the other hand, are pretty much foragers and eat grasses and legumes. If you have goats it’s probably a good thing to have a little brush in the pasture.”

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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