This Fall, Manage Pasture Grasses for Productivity In 2014

Missouri pasture grasses need time to produce residual cover.

Published on: Oct 10, 2013

Fall has arrived and soon the growing season for our pasture grasses will be ending. How we manage our forages this fall has a major impact on next year's growth.

For farmers in Missouri the common cool-season grasses is to gain a certain amount of residual after grazing in order for the plant to recover. Here is a quick reminder of the amount of residual plant height per for predominant pasture forages needed for a plant to recover.

Amount of residual needed for recovery:

-Tall fescue-3 to 4 inches

-Smooth bromegrass and orchardgrass- 4 inches

-Kentucky bluegrass- 2 to 3 inches.

In the fall, those amounts typically increase. Both smooth bromegrass and orchardgrass can be used lightly in the fall if 6inches of stubble are left for winter. Kentucky bluegrass can also be lightly grazed in the fall if 4inches of stubble are left for winter.

Cool-season grasses common in Missouri require a certain amount of residual in order to recovery. These amounts typically increase in the fall.
Cool-season grasses common in Missouri require a certain amount of residual in order to recovery. These amounts typically increase in the fall.

As the end of the growing season approaches, our forages are actually getting ready for next year's growth. Many of these plants are setting tillers during this time for growth the following spring. Farmers typically do not want to feed hay any longer than they have to, so pastures need to green up quickly in the spring and be productive. Pastures stressed the year before from overgrazing will not green up as quickly in the spring, will not be as productive, and will likely have more weed issues.

According to Craig Roberts, University of Missouri Extension state forage specialist, "In north Missouri, frequent and excessive removal of the canopy will result in a pasture containing plants like tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, white clover, and annual lespedeza."

Essentially, pasture plants are indicators of management. If desirable forages aren't productive, or if farmers start to see weeds or less desirable forages, management needs to change to allow the preferred forages to be productive and persist.

Leaving the appropriate residual when grazing can also give the plant greater ability to recover from dry weather. When plants are overgrazed and there is less of a canopy to shade the soil surface, the soil will actually dry out more quickly. Without rainfall, overgrazed plants cannot respond as well to that rain compared to plants that had the minimum leaf material left as residual.

With some careful management, pastures and hay fields can be more productive and resilient to whatever challenges the weather sends our way.

Source: NW Stock Talk