Address Pasture Problems Early for Season-Long Benefits

Many farmers are being penalized economically for not managing their pastures properly.

Published on: Apr 21, 2010
Excellent moisture and generally good growing conditions, coupled with a long winter spent pushing snow, fighting mud and feeding cows likely is tempting most cattlemen to push their pastures earlier and harder this spring. It's a temptation that's best avoided.
 
"Don't overgraze. That's my No. 1 piece of advice," says Mark Renz, Extension weed specialist with the
University of Wisconsin. "The outlook heading into the season is really positive, but if we don't continue to manage small problems before they become large ones, the optimism can change quickly."
 
Dealing with pasture problems becomes more challenging in smaller parcels that make up much of the
Wisconsin countryside. Renz says that it's simply more difficult to manage several smaller pastures than a few larger ones. "Since our pastures generally are productive, management tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list," Renz adds. "But many producers are being penalized economically for not managing."
 
Prevent increase in weeds and other undesirable plants

Among the challenges that can come with mismanagement is an increase in weeds and other undesirable plants. Through education, Renz hopes to prevent mismanagement in the first place. He says that just a few simple steps, like rotational grazing and managing weeds, brush and other low-value plants early — before they become bigger problems — can help optimize forage potential.
 
"Rotational grazing alone can provide dramatic benefits in terms of weed suppression," Renz adds.
 
While the landscape changes drastically from the smaller pastures of
Wisconsin to the more open ranges of western Nebraska, the advice doesn't.
 
Wide-open West has problems with thistles and other weeds

"Good precipitation last fall and a lot of snow in the winter provided plenty of moisture to give grasses, as well as some of the perennial and biennial weeds, a good start," says Bob Wilson, weed specialist at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff. "It's important to go in early before weeds bolt and control them so they don't have a long period to compete with the grasses."
 
Effective early control starts with identifying the weed species present and developing a control program. For example, most producers know they have to deal with thistles,
Wilson says. "But if they have thistles, plus other broadleaf weeds to control, then they should select a control program that addresses those different species," he adds.
 
A wide control spectrum is important not only in
Nebraska and Wisconsin, but areas in between and beyond. Chaparral herbicide, a new pasture management tool from Dow AgroSciences, can be an effective option. It provides two modes of action and controls many important species, including thistles, knapweeds, common mullein, houndstongue and wild carrot.

New, simpler to use pasture management herbicides can help

Chaparral also brings a wider application window to the control of buckbrush and bolted thistles. In addition to buckbrush, it's effective against blackberry, locust and other woody species. The result is more forage, better land utilization and improved animal performance.
 
"Many pastures in
Wisconsin have a broad range of weed species," Renz explains. "Chaparral offers a wide spectrum of effectiveness across many important species, including wild parsnip and multiflora rose. A grower can utilize it in a number of situations."
 
For example, weed spectrums often vary from pasture to pasture, Renz says.
"The beauty of Chaparral is that it's simpler," he says. "The control spectrum overlaps well, so in most cases you can go with one product. Other options only target specific weeds." Convenience plays well farther west, too.
Wilson expects an average weed population this year — due in part to good subsoil moisture helping to put forage grasses at a competitive advantage. He believes insects should further motivate early weed control.
 
"There have been predictions that grasshoppers will challenge us this year," Wilson explains. "The sooner producers can control weeds, the less time the weeds will spend competing with the grasses." And more robust grasses stand up better to insect feeding to better feed grazing livestock.
 
For more information about rangeland and pasture management, grazing programs, and weed and brush control, contact your local Extension office, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office or visit www.RangeAndPasture.com.