There may be several inches of snow on the ground in much of the Midwest, but grazing season is just around the corner
For producers looking to modify their grazing system, now is the time to start putting those plans in motion, especially if making the switch to management intensive grazing.
Frost-seeding grass and legumes can start soon, says Patrick Wall, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist based in southeast Iowa.
He says by this time of year, producers contemplating management intensive grazing should have most of their questions answered.
“The first thing is to determine your water source and how reliable it might be,” Wall says. “If you don’t have access to water, management intensive grazing won’t work. If you are relying on a creek and we have a drought, you’re in trouble.”
Next, pastures need to be assessed for grass species.
“Depending on where you are located, you need the right grasses to make this work,” Wall says.
He says a combination of cool- and warm-season grasses would be ideal, although he adds pastures in the northern part of the Midwest likely can get by with just cool-season grasses.
“It would be nice to have the warm-season grasses available in July and August if you need them,” Wall says. “If you just have cool-season grasses, seeding in some red clover, trefoil or alfalfa would be helpful.”
Soil quality also need to be tested, says David Davis, superintendent of the University of Missouri’s Forage Systems Research Center in Linneus.
“Make sure the pH is right because you want it close to that neutral range,” he says. “P and K also need to be where they need to be. We apply nitrogen annually to our pastures, usually about 75 pounds. You want the soil in great shape before you seed anything.”
Davis says producers need to determine paddock size and should base that decision on a number of factors.
“You are likely going to have various sizes of paddocks,” he says. “You are going to want to set them up so it’s practical when it comes to moving cattle.”
Davis says portable fencing works well, adding cattle are easily trained when it comes to moving them to fresh grass.
“They know when they’re ready to move,” he says.
He says using management intensive grazing also allows producers to stockpile forage and stretch grazing into late fall and into winter.
Wall recommends producers start small.
“You don’t want to try and reinvent the wheel overnight,” he says. “Start small with four paddocks, and if it works well, go to eight paddocks and continue to grow if necessary. There is a great deal more management in this grazing system, so you want to make sure it fits in your operation before you expand it.”