Drought pasture grazing

Cool season grasses may experience a flush of fall growth under the right conditions. Utilizing these grasses now can be a source of much needed forage, but may have an impact on next year’s production. How can you utilize this forage resource in fall pastures?

Species like brome, wheatgrass, bluegrass and fescue will often produce a flush of fall growth if moisture is available and as temperatures cool. Since this flush stays in a vegetative state, quality can be high. In areas of Nebraska that experienced dry conditions this summer, this may be the first growth from these plants since the rain shut off in June or July.

Under these circumstances, using this high quality forage source may seem like an obvious choice, but doing so may do more harm than good. These plants are already run down by drought this summer. Grazing now can add to that stress, depleting energy reserves even further going into the winter, resulting in decreased productivity and increased weed pressure next spring. Stockpiling this growth for use after the plant is dormant this winter may be a better option. This maximizes productivity this fall while still maintaining forage quality, albeit a bit lower than if grazed fresh.

On the flip side, in mixed or native grass pastures where these cool season species are invasive, there may be opportunity to control or reduce these gasses with grazing. Animals grazing these pastures now will seek out this new growth, with limited utilization of more mature warm season species. Keep a close eye on grazing progress and pull animals once the cool season species have been used and they begin selecting warm season grasses. Follow this with more targeted cool season grazing next spring to weaken the unwanted plants and open the door for warm season grasses to fill in.

Remember, to use fall growth, stockpile forage for better stand health and maximum production. For control, target-graze stressed plants headed into winter.