Fall Pasture Management

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Large pasture with 1 brown and white cowFall is around the corner. That means that it’s getting time to start thinking about fall fertilizer applications, stockpiling fescue for the winter and reviewing some grazing management practices. Perennial pastures in our area are predominately tall fescue. Fescue, being a cool season perennial, grows the best during the spring and fall. There has actually been research found that fescue will have more growth during the winter that it will during the summer. Which is important to remember for two reasons; one being fertilizer timing and the other grazing management.

With cool season perennials like fescue, they go dormant during the hot summer days, that is why we see little or no growth during the summer. Fescue performs best when fertilizer applications are split between spring and fall. Splitting these applications allows you to spread out the nitrogen to the two times a year when fescue is actively growing. Spring applications will promote growth to help choke out weeds and provide growth for grazing throughout the spring and summer. Fall applications will give the grass a boost after summer grazing as well as promote growth for pastures you plan to stockpile for winter grazing.

If you have the extra acreage, stockpiling fescue is a great tool you can use to help save some hay being fed during the winter. Pastures that you plan to stockpile need to be clipped, mowed or grazed during late summer, then ~50-60 lbs/acre of nitrogen applied between August 15th to September 15th. From that point, don’t allow livestock on those areas until winter to allow as much growth as possible. One gift that livestock has been given that makes it tough for producers, that that they are professional at selective grazing. That is why you see pastures that are continuously grazed have some areas that have taller more mature patches of grass while the rest of the field is grazed down to nothing. That is because livestock prefer the young tender regrowth and leave older mature grass. Utilizing strip grazing with polywire is a great way to help train livestock to be less picky and not selectively graze as much. I mention this because when grazing stockpiled fescue pastures, the grass will be more mature and stemmier and livestock will not like it as much. But if livestock is confined to a smaller area for a short period, they will learn to eat what is there. The longer you can extend grazing during the winter, the less hay you will need to feed which will help your pocketbook. If you are not familiar with strip grazing or using polywire in your grazing program, let me know and I can help you.

As I mentioned, fescue does not really grow much during the summertime, which can be tricky for many producers during the summer. However, there are some tips and tricks we can use to navigate around this issue. For one, think about your stocking rate and density. Too many head can really affect your pasture performance and increase the chances of overgrazing. Removing livestock from pastures after grass is grazed down to 3-4 inches which is often the simplest concept but can also be the hardest thing to do on many operations simply because there’s just not enough pasture to rotate animals to. Intensifying your grazing with polywire and step-in posts is a great tool that can help any operation of any size. The goal, as I mentioned before, is to reduce the amount of selective grazing done and training livestock to eat what is there. With strip grazing, the animals are allowed to graze a portion of the pasture, then moved to a different section to allow regrowth to the previous section. With mother nature on your side, you would be impressed on how fast grass can regrow when animals are removed from it and spending a few hundred dollars on temporary grazing tools will be one of the best investments you will make on your operation.

Managing your forage and grazing program can be tricky until you learn, and implement, different tools on your operation. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. But, understanding forage growth and soil health is the most important factor to grasp first. From there, you can start adding tools to your grazing toolbox to use throughout the year.