For Release January 22, 2002

Start Planning Pasture Management Now

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

It may only be the end of January, and cattle wonít be turned out into pastures for at least another three months, but you need to be making management plans on those pastures right now. How you ultimately manage those pastures is going to depend a lot on the weather over the next ninety days. But we still have a lot of pastures that are suffering from the stress of the 2000 grazing season and some changes are probably in order.

Right now, we have a dry soil moisture profile in the pastures. We always say that there are several things we need before we burn pastures in late April. First we need a reason, second we need adequate fuel (dead grass from previous seasons), and third we need a full soil moisture profile at the time we burn. So far, all pastures are lacking in the third and about half are lacking in the second. To sum it up succinctly, we need a lot of moisture over the next three months to justify burning. IF we get it, and youíve got the fuel and the reason, go ahead and burn. If we donít get the rain, you might as well just put the matches away for this year.

I received a lot of phone calls late last year about all the weeds that were showing up in pastures. In most cases, everyone was talking about the yellow flowering plant that appeared to have taken over the pastures. This is annual broomweed and is a result of some of the dry weather weíve seen over the last two years. This didnít bother me very much. What has bothered me is how little grass Iím seeing in many pastures at the end of the 2001 grazing season.

Lack of grass at the end of the grazing season is a sure sign that the pasture is stressed from dry weather, over stocking, or both. The main problem, as I see it, is that we are still stocking a lot of pastures at the same rates we did in 1965. But the cattle we are putting in those pastures are bigger than they were in 1965. Bigger cows and bigger calves eat more grass and we have to compensate by allowing more acres per pair, or go back to smaller cows and calves.

During this all too nice weather that we are having, you need to be evaluating the condition of every pasture you own or rent. The first question that you need to ask is if there is adequate fuel to carry a good fire if we do get the moisture. If there is, then your stocking rates and grazing management are probably about right. If there isnít adequate grass to carry the fire, then we need to reevaluate how you are managing that grass.

For an average cow and calf of today, I feel we need to allow eight to eight and a half acres, of grazable grass, per pair, for season long stocking. Many pastures are not being stocked to allow this much grass. Remember, acres of grazable grass is different than total acres in the pasture. Any area with brush or timber to the extent that grass growth is reduced, is not going to count. Iíve seen many pastures that only have about half of their acres as grazable grass!

If you donít have enough fuel to carry a fire, then you need to reduce stocking rates and for starters Iíd drop back to ten acres per cow calf pair. Both of these rates assume we receive adequate moisture to insure good growth. If we donít receive that moisture, we probably need to increase acres per pair at least 25% and then monitor grass condition as the summer progresses.

These Flint Hills pastures are a valuable resource. But right now they are hurting and many of them have been abused. We need to take a little extra care of them over the next few years just to get them back into the shape they need to be!


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