Pasture Management Tips to Improve

By Gary Bates, Professor Plant Sciences and published by University of Tennessee in Beef Cattle Time, Volume 24, Number 4, Fall 2006 - High quality, productive pastures are a key to a successful cow-calf operation. Here are a few things that all producers can do to improve the profitability of the forage component of their farms.
calendar icon 1 December 2006
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Be efficient with fertilizer. Fertilizer prices have increased dramatically, and there is no reason to think prices will be going down.
  • Fertilize and lime according to soil test results. Don’t apply more potash and phosphate than necessary. A soil test will show the pH of the soil and indicate whether any lime is needed. Forages use fertilizer most efficiently if the pH is above 6.0. Below 6.0, some of the fertilizer applied will not be used.
  • Apply nitrogen only when soil moisture is adequate for plant growth. If soil moisture is limited, nitrogen fertilizer will not be well used. Moisture is not usually limiting for the spring growth of cool-season grasses; but, if you are using warm-season grasses like bermudagrass or trying to stockpile tall fescue in the fall, adequate moisture is essential.
  • Use clover to replace nitrogen application in the spring. Tall fescue/red and white clover mixtures can yield as much as tall fescue fertilized with 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Seeding clovers into tall fescue will reduce the fertilizer bill and improve pasture quality.
Keep weeds under control. Weeds reduce yield and quality of forage by using nutrients that should be used by a forage plant. Letting weeds grow in a pasture for a couple of years can severely reduce productivity. There are many broadleaf herbicides available for use in tall fescue pastures. Identify weeds and choose the best herbicide program for control.

Choose a strategy and deal with the endophyte in tall fescue. The endophyte Neotyphodium ceoenophialum costs millions of dollars in reduced performance in Tennessee cattle each year. This fungus cannot be seen on the outside of the tall fescue plant, but its presence inside causes reduced food intake, poor reproductive rates, elevated body temperatures and less gain than animals not grazing toxic tall fescue. If grazing KY-31 tall fescue, cattle are suffering from some level of toxicosis, whether you realize it or not. Here are several ways to deal with this issue:
  • Replace toxic varieties with MaxQ tall fescue. This variety is infected with a non-toxic form of the endophyte. This non-toxic endophyte helps the tall fescue persist under drought and grazing conditions without causing toxicosis.
  • Plant red and white clover with KY-31 tall fescue. Adding clovers will not eliminate toxicosis, but it will reduce it by as much as 50 percent. The gains will not be as good as with MaxQ, but it will reduce toxicosis without replanting
  • Shift to other cool-season grasses like orchardgrass. This method will also eliminate the endophyte problem, although stand life will not be as long as with KY-31 tall fescue or MaxQ so replanting every few years may be necessary.
Graze pasture efficiently. It doesn’t make sense to spend money producing forage and then do a poor job using it. Following these simple steps will improve pasture efficiency on most farms. Efficient use of resources is key to profitability.

October 2006
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