4 tips for grazing dry pastures

August 15, 2016

3 Min Read
4 tips for grazing dry pastures

August has brought some drought-like conditions for some areas of cattle country with many producers praying for a shot of rain to get through the final months of the summer grazing season.

This week’s poll on beefmagazine.com asks, “How’s your summer grazing going?” The voting is just getting underway, but so far 63% of readers say grazing is going great, and there is still plenty of grass to get through the summer grazing season. Another 32% say it’s been good so far, but the drought is starting to turn things brown. The remaining 5% say it’s not so great; grazing has been poor all summer.

Vote in the poll here. 

In my neck of the woods, we are in the middle category as we’ve enjoyed a decent grazing season, despite some dry periods, but things are starting to turn brown in August. However, we received an inch of rain last week, which has raised spirits considerably. We won’t wean calves until early October, and I think we should have enough grass to get the herd through until that point.

When grazing dry pastures, there are some management considerations to keep in mind. Chris Zoller, Ohio State University Extension educator, shares four tips for grazing through a hot and dry August.

1. Stick to the basics

Zoller writes, “Maintaining good fertility and soil pH can help grazing plants survive drought conditions. Soils that have adequate fertility and are at the ideal pH will go a long way in helping plants maintain a healthy root system, which is important for capturing nutrients, minimizing soil loss, and photosynthesis.

“If you decide to apply nitrogen fertilizer, use a form that will not volatilize if rainfall doesn’t occur shortly following application. Nitrogen fertilizer can benefit plants even if rainfall doesn’t occur for several weeks. But be cautious when using nitrogen fertilizer during drought conditions as this practice can potentially lead to nitrate poisoning.”

2. Avoid overgrazing

Zoller says, “It’s critical that plants be grazed to the proper stubble height and be allowed to rest until they reach the proper grazing height. Plants should be between 6 and 8 inches tall when grazed. This is necessary to maintain plant health and diversity in a pasture. The ‘take half, leave half’ rule applies at all times when grazing — and especially during times of drought.”

Zoller warns producers not to overgraze in dry conditions. He says, “One of the worst things to do during a drought is to open up the gates and let livestock graze wherever and whenever they choose. Doing so prevents photosynthesis to occur and may cause long-term damage to the plants.”

3. Rotational grazing matters

He recommends rotational grazing to allow more time for the pastures to rest. He writes, “If you have large grazing paddocks, it may be helpful to subdivide them to improve forage utilization and increase the rest period. Look for other areas that are not normally grazed, such as hay that is short, but adequate for grazing, crop residue, or farm roads that are normally mowed.”

4. Supplement with hay or grain

“Feed these in an area that will benefit from the extra nutrients provided by these feeds,” says Zoller. “Another option is to cross fence the pastures and start feeding the hay or grain on pasture to extend the grazing and spread the nutrients over more acres.”

Read the entire article from Zoller here. 

What management tips do you implement to get through dry grazing conditions? Share your tips in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.


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