The same goes for late season growth management of pastures. Try to allow three to four weeks of fall recovery before a killing freeze, and then, if you are going to graze again, leave an average of 3 inches or so of lower stem bases on the grasses. The practical problem with these management strategies is that it involves removing livestock from pasture. And no more hay harvest -- in an already hay shortage season. Each individual has to make those decisions about their fields, based on what is most important for their situation.
Fall is good time to pull soil samples, have them tested, fertilize if needed
Fall is a good time to soil test and fertilize both hay and pastures with needed potassium (K) and phosphorus (P). This will help drought-stressed forage stands to overwinter and improve regrow and yields next spring. Applying 25 pounds to 40 pounds of nitrogen to grass pastures during the last few weeks of their fall growth will aid in stimulating more fall tillering or branching and promoting a more vigorous recovery in the spring.
Give recovering hay and pasture stands time to 'catch up' or regain more vigor next spring. If fall recovery was not favorable, or you did cut or graze late in the season in 2012, the recovering forage plant may still be under some physiological stress. Hay and pasture plants will benefit from allowing a bit more recovery and growing time next spring before they are cut or grazed. For best 'recovery management,' delay the first cut of alfalfa stands until they reach early-to-mid-bloom. For pastures, allow 3 to 4 inches of growth in the spring before livestock turnout.
Repairing and reseeding these drought-thinned pastures this coming year
Consider 'interseeding' or 'frostseeding' drought-thinned pastures this coming year, do it in late winter or early spring of 2013.
* Frostseeding is the broadcasting of legumes or additional grass seed in late winter when the last few weeks of night-freeze and daytime-thaw aids in seed coverage.
* Interseeding is using a drill to no-till legumes or forage grasses into an existing sod. Spring interseeding dates are mid-March through late-April.
Frostseeding works best with legumes on the thinnest, least competitive sod areas. Grasses are generally more effectively established with interseeding than with frostseeding. With both frostseeding and interseeding, having the existing pasture sod grazed closely (like many of our pastures following the summer 2012 drought stresses) reduces early season competition between established forage and the new seedlings.
Further competition for shade, sunlight and soil moisture can be reduced by timely and thoughtful rotational grazing for the first few months of new seedling establishment. For more details, read these ISU Extension publications: Pm-856, Improving Pasture by Frost Seeding, and Pm-1097, Interseeding and No-till Pasture Renovation.