For Release August 14, 2001

Time To Evaluate Pasture Condition

AGRI-VIEWS
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Native grass pastures had a rough go of it last year. It turned off hot and dry, and in many pastures there wasnít very much grass left when the cattle were pulled off in October. This year hasnít been much better for the pastures. We have not had much recharge of subsoil moisture. Pastures went into summer without much food in the pantry, so to speak. The hot dry weather in July certainly took its toll as well. Even with good rains in late July, it was still pretty much hand to mouth for the grass.

From now to the end of September is a very critical period for those warm season native grasses. This is the time of year that those grasses are trying to get themselves ready for winter and early season growth next year. They need good healthy leaf blades to produce starches that they will store in their roots and crown.

If the grasses do not have a good healthy leaf blades, they will not be able to store up the needed carbohydrates. They will probably survive the winter okay, but they will not start growing very aggressively next spring. If they can not grow aggressively, then there will be longer periods of bare soils. Weeds and undesirable grasses will have a chance to get a foothold. If you do not have good grass cover this fall, cheat and other annual bromes can easily become established. You also wonít have enough fuel for a good fire next spring. See the vicious cycle we start getting into?

You need to go out and start evaluating each and every pasture. If you donít have enough grass, not weeds but grass, right now to carry a good fire come next spring, then you need to be pulling the cattle out of that pasture right now. Then the grass will at least have a chance to put on some growth before dormancy sets in. I have already seen a lot of pastures that are nearly table top smooth. And there were still cattle present. This is not good.

We are heading into a bad situation here. We have been pushing beyond the safe carrying capacity of many of these pastures too far for too long. As long as we had some good growing seasons, the pastures were able to hang in there and sneak by without too many problems. But now that practice is coming back around to bite us. In how many pastures have you seen a lot of forbs, weeds or what youíd just call junk? All of these non-grass plants are not the problem, but merely a symptom. The bigger problem is over grazing.

We canít continue to use the same stocking rate we used 30 years ago because we have bigger cattle and bigger calves. Bigger livestock eat more grass. We are going to have to start backing off on these stocking rates until we can get the grass to come back. But then we canít return to the same stocking rates we were using, we have to use a stocking rate that will maintain that grass.

We can blame part of the low grass production on the weather. And the weather is part of the reason. But we have to give that grass a fighting chance. Pull cattle off pastures and move them to alternative grazing/feeding options. If you have stockers, send them on out to the feed yard. You donít have to keep them on grass until October just because you always have. Thereís an old saying that says, "If you always do what youíve always done, youíll always get what youíve always gotten." Well, we can see what weíve been doing, and we see what weíve got. Maybe itís time to try something different!

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