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Fall care improves pastures for spring
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Fall care improves pastures for spring

Cattle feeding on winter pasture

When feeding cows during winter months, producers may want to change locations to avoid tearing up a pasture.

Many regions in the Midwest are coming off an extended period of extreme drought, so pastures may not be in optimum shape as winter approaches.

Allowing pastures to rest and recharge in the fall is the best medicine, says Daren Redfearn, Extension forage agronomist with the University of Nebraska.

“At this time, we want to think about stubble height,” he says. “If you are grazing in the fall, we want to see 4 inches at least of stubble. That’s going to allow plants to continue to store energy reserves, and it’s also going to protect that crown. If you damage that crown, you are go to damage next year’s crop.”

Late summer and early fall rains have helped push pastures into better conditions, but Redfearn says moisture remains a concern.

“Even with the rain, spring growth is partially determined by how long you grazed through late summer and into fall,” he says.

Pastures can also be damaged in muddy conditions, says Denise Schwab, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University.

She says many producers will feed cows hay and distillers out on pasture. Schwab says a poorer-quality pasture is the best place to do this.

“It’s something you could sacrifice this winter, then take care of it in the spring,” she says.

This is also a good time plan ahead for frost seeding, Schwab says. The actual seeding generally occurs in February or March.

Schwab says water sources also need to be established now, allowing time for maintenance or any other work before winter arrives.

Fences, gates and other items should be checked and fixed while autumn is still here, she says.

Schwab also suggests rolling out hay bales in different locations to help prevent a thick mat from forming. This also reduces foot traffic, she says.

Redfearn says once plants go dormant, feeding hay should not cause a huge problem. He recommends finding a section of pasture that has poor soil quality.

“Cattle are going to return the nutrients to the soil, and that could provide a benefit in the spring,” Redfearn says.

He adds with soaring fertilizer prices, some producers may be reluctant to apply fertilizer to pastures in 2022.

“These prices just keep getting higher,” Redfearn says. “A lot of people are going to have to re-think what they want to do this spring.”

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