Short pastures could get a boost from a fall fertilizer application if moisture is sufficient.
Many pastures in the Midwest are very dry, says Dennis Bowman, Extension agronomist with the University of Illinois. He says cow/calf producers may have no option other than to over-graze pastures.
“If we get some early fall rain, some fall nitrogen could stabilize that pasture,” Bowman says. “I would consider putting some on in late August or early September so if it does rain, it’s ready to go.”
He says fertilizing later in the fall could be counter-productive to spring growth.
“You don’t want to over-stimulate the plant before it goes dormant,” Bowman says.
Soil testing is not a common practice, he says, but Bowman recommends farmers take a look at nutrient levels.
“It’s a really good idea, especially if you are counting on that pasture,” he says.
Bowman says livestock recycle 60 to 80 percent of the nutrients in the pasture. He says farmers who hay pastures remove those nutrients.
Applying phosphorus and potassium will help stimulate root and grown growth, Bowman says, while nitrogen promotes more top growth. He suggest checking the pH before applying anything to the pasture.
“We like that level around 6.5,” Bowman says.
Some producers may use manure to fertilize pastures, but that practice could promote weed development.
“I struggle with manure as a nitrogen source,” says Aaron Saeugling, Iowa State University Extension agronomist in Lewis.
“You are going to be introducing so many weed species when you do that.”
He says resting pasture is recommended during the fall, although Saeugling realizes that might not be possible.
“It’s easy for me to say, because your cattle need to be able to eat,” he says. “If it’s an option, perhaps you could sacrifice 10 to 15 acres for grazing and rest everything else. You could seed an annual in the spring to replace what you lost in the fall.”
Saeugling says a year-round weed management strategy could also help pastures fare better when Mother Nature turns off the faucet.
“You really need to pay attention to weeds, especially perennials like Canadian thistle,” he says. “Those weeds are in competition for moisture and nutrients with that grass, so anything you can do get rid of weeds will be very helpful.”
He says fertilizing in the fall can give pastures a boost ahead of winter.
“You might be able to get some grazing off them by doing that, and it should help in the spring as well,” Saeugling says. “I know it’s difficult when it’s dry, but if you can rest them as much as you can, that is going to help tremendously.”