Cows grazing in pasture

The 5-Step Blueprint to Lush Pastures: A Producer's Guide to Transforming Grazing Land

There are many reasons why our pastures do not perform as they ought to.  Economists consistently insist that the cheapest way to feed cattle is by feeding actively growing forages.  Here are some steps that we can take to improve our grazing pastures and increase profitability. 

1. Plan for Pinnacle Pastures

Strategize Strategically

Improving our pastures can be a daunting task.  There are various reasons why our pastures are not performing how we would like them to.  If needed, utilize the services of an advisor.  Every state has an Extension Service as a part of its Land Grant University system with agents/educators willing to provide expertise and guidance.  Many agricultural product suppliers have agronomists on staff who can work with potential customers to guide them in the planning process.  Remember that it will take time to make and implement the plan.  The plan should also remain flexible to change during the implementation period. 


2. The Oracle of Soil Testing

A Foundation in Fertility 

A soil test is vital in determining the limiting nutrients and pH of the soil.  There are 16 essential plant nutrients, six of which are considered major nutrients.  Of those six major nutrients, three are provided by the atmosphere: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.  The other three major nutrients provided by a fertilizer source are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  The secondary nutrients that all plants need are calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.  Usually, the remaining seven trace nutrients are adequately supplied by the soil, however, occasionally we must add trace amounts of those nutrients for proper growth. 

pH is the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil.  If the soil is too acidic or alkaline, the major nutrients will be chemically bound in the soil and the plant will not have the ability to absorb them.  With a few exceptions, most grasses grow best with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. Lime is the product used to raise pH when the soil is too acidic and if dolomitic limestone is used, it will provide calcium and magnesium to the soil profile.   

A soil test report from a state, university, or private laboratory will provide recommendations on how much, the levels of specific nutrients needed and the pH of the soil, and any lime that may need to be added to achieve the ideal soil pH.  Utilizing and following the soil test recommendations are always the first steps in improving grazing. 

3. Controlling Grazing Heights

Finding Forage in Feeding Heights 


Have you ever noticed that it seems that the grass in the lawn outgrows the grass in the pasture?  Different grass species respond differently to different cutting heights.  Most cool-season grasses grow best when you leave a minimum of two to three inches of leaf surface.  Most warm-season grasses can perform well with a little less leaf surface.  So, back to the original question:   

How do we achieve this uniformity and height control in our pastures?  Livestock species have no height adjustment features, therefore, as producers and managers we must manage the animals and control their grazing.  This can be accomplished by using such strategies as rotational grazing or mob grazing.  An important aspect of these strategies is to allow the animals the forage they will eat in 24 hours, leaving the correct amount of leaf surface, and then moving them.  It also helps to backfence the animals to keep them from coming back on the regrowth of the previously grazed.  This regrowth will be more tender and attractive to the animals and their instinct will be to graze it even closer resulting in damage to the pasture. 

Producers also need to look at their stocking rates on their farms/ranches.  Different regions of the country have different carrying rates based on the climate.  One must ask themselves the question, “Am I overstocked?” 

4. Plant Improved Varieties of Forages

Sowing Superior Seeds 

Many producers fail to see the difference in grasses.  Whether they be cool season or warm season grasses, annuals or perennials, bunch type or spreading, grass species all have their own unique set of qualities. When these qualities are evaluated individually and used in a forage system, they allow producers to not only improve the quantity of forage they produce in a growing season but also extend that growing season. 

When evaluating a new forage species or variety to incorporate into your grazing system, do not limit yourself to thinking only of yield potential.  There are varieties available that may yield 100 or 200 pounds per acre less than another but when you look at qualities such as crude protein, digestibility, or softness these qualities will more than make up for a minor yield reduction.   

Understanding the nutritional needs of the livestock species that you are raising, as well as their production stage will help determine a forage system for your farm/ranch that will lead to greater profitability and sustain the land for future generations. 

5. Implement a Management Calendar

Finesse in Fertilization 

The importance of soil testing has already been discussed.  Producers must also fertilize forages at the proper time to enhance the growth potential of their established grasses.  This is done based on the climate zone of the farm or ranch location.  Cool-season grasses should be fertilized at the beginning of the active growing season.  In the transition zone between cool and warm season grasses, cool season grasses will have two periods of growth.  This would be in the early spring and again in the early fall.  Nutrients should be applied at the beginning of each growing season.  Nutrients should not be applied to cool-season grasses in the summer as it will cause stress and potentially cause the cool-season forage to die.  This is also the reason that you never plant cool-season and warm-season forages together.  Know your plant hardiness zone and plant forages that grow in that zone. 


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