For Release October 26, 1999

Pasture Management

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Since I was gone all last week, I was expecting the phone to keep my busy on Monday. I wasnít disappointed! What I did not expect were all the pasture questions. Well over half of my questions on Monday were either about condition of pastures this fall, weed or brush control in pastures or pasture rental rates. All of these questions made it rather easy to decide what to write about!

Late April of every year, the Kansas Department of Ag Statistics issues the pasture rental rate survey information. Here is an abbreviated version of that report with the information that most callers want to know. For the 14 county bluestem pasture area the average per acre rental rate was $16 per acre. A cow with spring calf averaged $100.90 per pair with a guarantee of 7 acres per head. A cow with a fall calf was $108.10 and 7.5 acres per pair. Yearlings under 700 pounds were $57.90 per head with a 3.8 acre guarantee. Yearlings over 700 pounds were $63.80 per head with a 4.7 acre guarantee. Keep in mind that these acres are below what I would recommend for good pasture management. I encourage producers to plan on 8.5 acres of good grass per cow/spring calf pair. Seven acres per pair is just asking for a slow (or not so slow) loss of pasture condition. Which also explains some of the poor pasture condition weíre seeing.

The question that keeps coming up day after day is, "What are all these weeds in my pasture and where did they come from?" Most of the "weeds" that Iíve been seeing are either western ragweed or broomweed. Western ragweed looks like a short ragweed plant (I canít think of anything else that it looks like), and broomweed is the taller stuff with slender stems and little yellow flowers.

Both of these weeds are in nearly every pasture every year. Just because you donít see them as you drive by in your pickup doesnít mean they arenít there. You also need to keep in mind that many of the forbs and legumes (non-grass plants) that are in our warm season pastures are native to the tall grass prairie (including western ragweed and broomweed) and are valued either as being a good forage plant or by improving the overall quality and quantity of forage.

Western ragweed is a perennial plant. If you start pulling it up you will find underground runners (rhizomes) connecting a whole lot of the above ground stems. It is very deeply rooted with tap roots extending over five feet deep, often deeper than many grass species. Through the first half of the summer, western ragweed is highly palatable, contains over 20% crude protein and is readily eaten by cattle. From mid-summer on it becomes unpalatable and cattle stop grazing it.

It has been shown in the mid-grass region (just west of here) that the yield of several desirable grasses are increased if western ragweed is present in amounts up to 1200 pounds per acre. In drier locations further west, it has been shown that there was no loss of forage yield from western ragweed, even when it was present at up to 3,000 pounds per acre (which is a lot of ragweed).

A prairie is a complex ecosystem made up of over 100 different plant species. Because of the different weather conditions, as evidenced by this year, some species may be very obvious in any given year. Donít panic about what seemed like a lot of "weeds" in your pasture this year. The only thing you may really need to do is to decrease stocking rate. Donít rush in to a spray program, just wait to see what next year brings!


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