NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Grass Turnout Date is More Than a Desire

pastures, grass turnout date, spring and summer grass management

Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources

Evidence of the calving season in the northern Great Plains is clear. All one needs to do is drive down any road and look at the pastures.  Generally, there are strips of hay spread across the pasture or side of the hill to make sure the cows have adequate feed during this critical part of their life.

To the cattle producer, spring and summer grass management should be the question of the day because there is this strong tendency to start opening gates and letting the cows graze beyond the calving pasture. Simply put, that is a mistake. Grazing cattle before the grass is ready actually impedes grass development. The producer will pay for that early grazing mistake later in the season, especially if the grazing season is short on moisture.

The cow business is a grass business. Despite the wide range in annual weather and associated environments, grass plants seem to adjust quite well. However, in the production world, producing beef from grass depends on the development of grazing plans that allow plants to fully utilize their genetics. It is well known that cool- and warm-season grasses are distinctly different, but both are required to have an effective grazing program.

Granted, alternative uses can be created, but the original native upper Great Plains prairies were and still are a cattle producer's dream. Not utilizing this resource in a sustaining way will cost the current and future producer. The bottom line is that effective grazing strategies utilize cattle because cattle do a good job of keeping grasslands healthy.

If there is a golden rule among a producer's grazing plans, it is simply to have a plan. The plan should reflect known biological principles that enhance perennial grass production and be manageable by the producer.

For example, at the Dickinson Research Extension Center, the grazing season starts in May. The cows and calves will be turned out on crested wheat pasture in early May and remain there until the end of May. The center sets dates within its plan but adjusts for yearly seasonal changes.

The four weeks of grazing cool-season grass provides a good start for the summer grazing season. As the summer grazing season is planned, effective rotation systems will help harvest heavy calves and keep the grasslands in peak condition. Turnout dates are important as are proper stocking rates that fit the pasture locations.

Following the first round of short rotations through the three pastures, the pastures will be grazed again for approximately 30 days each to complete the grazing season in mid-October. The principle is to stimulate the grass plant and then follow that with more utilization later in the grazing season.

There are other plans, but the important point from the producer's perspective is to consult with a local range scientist to develop solid plan. The NDSU Extension Service or Natural Resource Service can help you get started. Long-term grazing systems work, and all grass should be part of a planned grazing system.

Source: Kris Ringwall NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center

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