contributed article by Justin Fruechte, Product Expert - Ag
Millborn Seeds, Brookings, S.D.
Strategies to prevent muddy pastures next year.
When we picture healthy cattle, we envision them grazing on lush, green grass spread out along the landscape. That scene feels far off from the muddy spring we’re in, but what pieces of that picture can we emulate before summer pastures are flourishing? First off, we want calves to stay clean, and secondly, we want them spread out. Let’s work through some scenarios to set up that system.
Create Calving Pasture
Designing and planning for a calving pasture will require sacrifice of production. You can’t expect full grazing value from the grass in that pasture after it’s been stomped and overgrazed as it tries to grow early in the spring. Because of this, you should dedicate a pasture for calving or turning pairs onto for early spring before your summer pasture is fit to graze. This pasture will be grazed for a couple months early, but then left until the following year.
Choose Forage Base
Whether you’re creating the calving pasture from scratch or simply sprucing it up, there are species that can live up to this type of use. Aggressive rhizomatous grasses such as Smooth Brome or Forage Kentucky Bluegrass work well as a base. Though they are invasive and not excellent for yield, they’ll create a sod and stand up to the abusive close grazing.
Then, think about including a warm season perennial such as switchgrass or Big Bluestem. They won’t add any grazing yield, but they’ll provide some protection and surface cover. The neat thing about this crop combination is they don’t break dormancy until you pull the pairs off, which works perfectly to avoid harming their growth habits.
Utilize Crop Ground
Utilizing crop ground to make an annual calving area is also an option. One of the best benefits in this scenario is interrupting the disease cycle by rotating the crop land that you graze. Without question, the best annual crop to plant on crop-ground-turned-calving-pasture is cereal rye. It’s a winter annual that needs to be planted in the fall.
My favorite rotation for this is to drill cereal rye at 2 to 3 bu/acre as soon as your silage is chopped. The rye will break dormancy as the ground thaws from winter, providing a fast-growing, thick mat of grass ideal for new baby calves. Working this annual into your acres and then rotating these fields provides a nice opportunity for a fresh, clean environment every spring for pairs.
Knowing you have a plan will save time and energy when it’s go-time, but keep in mind that these systems can always be tweaked due to weather changes. As you push through mud season and watch the bedding reserves deplete, take this opportunity to plan for a better way.
Photos courtesy Millborn Seeds
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Millborn Seeds, Brookings, S.D.
The team of folks at Millborn Seeds have roots that run deep in farming, agriculture, and in the overall respect for the landscape. They opened their doors in 1987 and continue to walk alongside farmers, ranchers, and landowners across thousands of acres throughout the Midwest.