Winter pasture management

New grass may be a few months away, but there are a few things producers can do to make sure pastures start out 2020 in good shape.

Taking cows off pastures if possible is always beneficial, says Aaron Saeugling, Iowa State University Extension agronomist based in Lewis, Iowa. However, many producers may not have that option.

“If you can’t transition cows out onto corn stalks, then you might want to look at a sacrifice pasture,” he says.

With grass short, those cows will need hay or some other supplemental feed source. Saeugling says producers using hay rings should make sure they are mobile.

He also suggests using hay rings where soil quality may be lower.

“That is going to help with manure distribution and help with the soil,” Saeugling says.

This time of year also provides an opportunity to see what forages were most popular with the cows.

“Look at what the cows ate and evaluate the grass species in the pasture,” Saeugling says. “If you see fescue clumps, that gives you an idea how much of that might be in your pasture.”

He says fescue continues to migrate north toward U.S. Highway 30, making it more important that producers understand the grass.

Rugged weather conditions the past three years have left many pastures in poor condition, says Rebecca Vittetoe, Iowa State University Extension agronomist based in Washington, Iowa.

She says because of weather issues, addressing soil fertility is vitally important, especially if pastures are in need of renovation. Soil samples should provide that information. She recommends a pH of 6.0 for grass, clover and birdsfoot trefoil. Alfalfa requires a soil pH of 6.9. Lime should be applied a year before seeding, she adds.

Soil tests should also dictate any phosphorus or potassium needs.

Weed control also needs to be assessed. Fall is a good time to take care of weeds, Vittetoe says, adding herbicide labels need to be checked before application.

Vittetoe says frost seeding works better in late February. She suggests pastures be over-grazed or mowed prior to frost seeding to reduce competition with the existing stand.

“This will weaken the current stand, but it will help the new seeding to compete with the current stand next spring,” she says, adding better seed to soil contact will be established.

“You want to make sure the ground is frozen without much snow cover when frost seeding,” Vittetoe adds. “Seeding red clover seems to work best in pastures around our area.”

She says early fall rains helped boost pasture conditions in southeast and south central Iowa.

Saeugling says pastures in southwest and west central Iowa are also in good shape heading into winter.

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Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.