Livestock producers can assure a healthier pasture next summer by taking steps to promote plant growth this spring. Helping plants prepare for fall is an important part of pasture management, according to Rory Lewandowski, agriculture and natural resources educator for Ohio State University Extension.
"Producers need to start thinking about what these plants are doing to get ready for the end of the season and should match their grazing practice with what the plant is trying to accomplish, which is to build up root reserves," Lewandowski says. "Producers need to be looking and planning ahead.
"Although pasture growth this year has been good and has left most producers in a better position than last year, hopefully the 2012 drought and its impacts are still in their memory so they will realize how important the fall period is and will work to protect that pasture from overgrazing."
During September and October, pastures must be managed so that grass and legume plants are able to build up and store carbohydrate reserves for the winter period, which keeps a root system living over the winter months, he says.
While the leaf tissue dies during the winter, the buds and roots of the plant remain as living tissues over the winter and continue to respire and burn energy, Lewandowski says.
"But if the root reserves are insufficient, the plant may die over the winter," he says. "And if the plant survives but root reserves are low, spring re-growth and vigor of the plant is reduced.
"In order to build up carbohydrate reserves, there must be adequate leaf area so that the plant can maximize the photosynthetic process."
To accomplish this, producers should ensure they don't overgraze their pastures. For orchard grass, producers should graze the pastures to no lower than 4 to 5 inches, Lewandowski says.
For tall fescue and bluegrass, pastures should be managed to leave a 3- to 4-inch residual, he said.
"Growth rate slows down in the fall, so it's harder to recover from overgrazing mistakes in September," Lewandowski says. "Other benefits to keeping higher grazing residual include conserving soil moisture so the plants will continue to grow.
"Overall, it's really about keeping enough leaf area on the plant so producers get quicker green-up in the spring and better, more vigorous spring plant growth in the long run."