Preparing for Grazing Season
Extension Educator, Carver/Scott Counties
April 15, 2011
As spring has finally arrived and urban home owners have started to clean up their yards and dig in their flower beds… what do dairy farmers do at this time of year? They are cleaning up their buildings and open lots where animals were housed after a long winter. They are getting equipment ready for field work and planting. They may be re-examining their feed inventories and making ration adjustments until forages can be harvested. Some may be evaluating their breeding programs for the coming year as they periodically need to do from time to time. Those that utilize pasture in their dairy operations will be thinking about the grazing season and the steps needed to have good productivity and success in the months ahead. For those that use grazing, it is now time to develop a plan, if one isn't already developed, to get those pastures prepped and ready.
The following is a short checklist to help you prepare:
- Reflect. Take some time to reflect on the previous grazing season. What worked and what didn't? How did the weather patterns effect your rotations, paddock use and supplementation needs? You may have kept some notes (either on paper or mentally) about certain paddocks that needed improvement via seed, fertilizer, fencing, etc. Have you taken a soil test of some of your paddocks recently? By taking a soil sample in a few of your paddocks over time, perhaps sampling so many per year, you can determine the nutrient needs of each paddock. This will help assure good productivity in that paddock continues by balancing the forage yield needs for your animals with the nutrient needs of the forage.
- Mending fences. What a good saying! Good fences not only work for good neighbors and relationships, but they are a critical item to think about when evaluating your pasture system. Have all the fence lines survived any flooding, downed trees, or wildlife crossing over them since last fall? Maybe it will be worth some time to replace older fences with high tensile lines. Perhaps you might be able to use portable fences to break up paddocks into smaller parcels if needed. If you use electric fence, it is important to take the time to make sure the fencer is still working and the power is still adequate for the amount of line you want to cover. What about the electrical gates? Are they properly wired to provide an electrical charge and do all of them still have their insulated handles?
- Clean up. Items end up in a pasture that should not be there. Take some time to walk paddocks and remove items that may have blown in or arrived since last fall. Rocks, tree limbs, and trash all fall into this category. If some paddocks are in an area that has been flooded then there are additional issues to deal with like silt, mud and debris, and time needs to be allowed to clean up and restore the area back to productivity.
- Establishment. You may have done some seeding last fall to create a few new pasture areas. Those areas need to be checked as soon as possible this spring to see how they have fared through the winter. We are seeing some greening up now in our pastures, and that is a welcome sight! Pay close attention to these newly seeded areas, as they will not withstand the typical grazing pressure and traffic as compared to some of the older stands. They should be worked into your grazing strategy in such a way that you can adjust their use in the months ahead. In doing so there is a better chance of having successful stands in the future.
- Water. Depending on the layout of the paddocks and how they are set up, more than likely you will have watering lines and livestock tanks in different areas. All of the lines, valves, hoses, tank floats and tanks need to be checked to ensure they are all in working order. Winter weather can be hard on these items if left outside. Another consideration is to make an evaluation on whether or not water access needs to be changed or added to a new area. Also, determine a strategy for keeping the area around the water tanks clean and dry so animals don't get dirty feet and legs while drinking.
This is just a short list of key areas to think about when preparing pastures for grazing. Each dairy producer's system will vary based on their needs and preferences. You can find more information about utilizing pastures for dairy cattle on the University of Minnesota Dairy Extension website at www.extension.umn.edu/dairy.