Spring is upon us and cool-season grass pastures soon will green-up. So it’s time to be thinking about fertilizing, says University of Nebraska forage Extension specialist Bruce Anderson.
He explains that grass growth is stimulated by nitrogen fertilizer just like other crops. However, with nitrogen fertilizer costing over 60 cents per pound this spring, though, does it pay to fertilize pasture?
Anderson reports that Nebraska research shows that you get one pound of additional calf or yearling gain for every pound of nitrogen fertilizer applied. However, this fertilization rule-of-thumb assumes that the amount applied is within our general recommendations, which are based on the potential amount of extra grass growth expected. This is affected mostly by moisture. It also assumes that your grazing management will efficiently harvest this extra growth.
If you fertilize pasture in spring and then let animals graze continuously on one pasture throughout the season, much of the extra growth is wasted, says Anderson. Cattle trample, manure and foul, bed down on, and simply refuse to eat much of the grass. Eventually, less than one-third of the extra grass ends up inside your livestock.
To make fertilizer pay, manage grazing so more of what you grow actually gets eaten, he suggests. This will happen if you subdivide pastures with some cross-fences and control when and where your animals graze. Give animals access to no more than one-fourth of your pasture at a time, and preferably less. Then graze off about one-half of the growth before moving to another subdivision. If your pastures aren’t already subdivided into at least four paddocks, your fertilizer dollar might be better spent on developing more cross-fences and watering sites.
Follow these suggestions and more of your pasture growth will be eaten, and more profits will come from fertilizer and pastures.