Preparing For Grazing And Haying

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Pastures and hayfields are turning green and beginning to grow, always a welcome springtime sight to farmers. Now is the time to implement pasture and hay management practices that will carry through the growing season to optimize production and utilization of pasture and hay.

Circumstances around the COVID-19 outbreak have caused agricultural markets to drop dramatically with 30 percent declines in cattle futures markets. However, the fundamentals of the cattle market were strong before the outbreak. Strategizing ways to optimize utilization of pasture and hay resources is the one of the best ways for your farm to weather this financial storm and be in a good position when markets improve. Here are a few things to consider that can help maximize your return from pasture and hayfields.

Utilize temporary electric fencing to restrict livestock access to some or most of your pasture. This will allow grass and clover to build depleted root reserves and provide a more resilient pasture through the grazing season. For many folks, hay supplies are completely depleted and they are now feeding costly purchased hay or supplements. The temptation is to allow livestock the full run of open pastures to nip any new green forage they can find. A two or three weeks of limiting pasture access can pay big dividends through the grazing season.

Plan now to set aside some pasture for summer stockpiling. This is a drought management strategy that can ensure you have inexpensive grazing available if the weather turns dry and provides for bonus fall grazing or hay production in the event rainfall is adequate. It can involve an early mowing in order to “shortcircuit” the grass going to seed or it simply can be protected from grazing and allowed to grow.

Apply nitrogen fertilizer strategically. Soil moisture levels are adequate at the moment and by mid-May it is likely pastures will be abundant. Early spring applications of nitrogen to pasture usually results in an abundance of over-mature and lower quality grass in early June. Investments in fertilizer are good but utilize those dollars wisely through strategic use. Confine spring applications to improved hay fields that you know will be the first to be harvested as soon as weather conditions permit. Consider conserving some of those fertilizer dollars for applications immediately after first cutting hay or to pastures later in the season. Second cutting hay is typically higher quality and more valuable and supplemental fertilizer on pasture is typically better utilized later in the growing season.

Now is a good time to check and test-run hay equipment. Ensure your hay equipment is maintained, lubricated, and ready-to-roll as soon as weather permits hay making in May.

Contact the Rockbridge Extension Office at 463-4734 or via email at stanleyt@vt.edu for more details about spring pasture and hayfield management and strategies to weather declining agricultural markets.

The News-Gazette

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