Managing pastures, producing more

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By Bryce Roberts

Good pasture management practices are essential to increasing quality livestock forages by reducing undesirable weeds and plants. The goal is to encourage growth of a vigorous, dense stand of desirable forage grasses, yet limit weed germination and growth. Unwanted plants can germinate in thin pasture stands and are more likely to become established within these areas.

Some weedy plants have nutritional value, especially those used in the early vegetative growth stages such as chicory and crabgrass.  On the other hand plants, such as poison hemlock, are potentially toxic to grazing animals.  Then there are invasive weeds, such as musk thistle and tall ironweed, that crowd out desirable grasses and legumes.

Good pasture management starts with good grazing practices and timely mowing.  Well-timed mowing helps prevent the production and spread of new weed seeds.  Where perennial weeds dominate, frequent mowing can curtail weeds’ growth by depleting their root reserves but is often not feasible or economical.  A primary practice to avoid is overgrazing that reduces the competitive capabilities of desirable forage species.

Maintaining optimum soil fertility levels is another practice to promote growth of desirable forages.  Take routine soil tests to ensure the optimum soil pH and nutrient levels for pasture growth and quality.  Also, keep fence rows and adjacent fields free of troublesome weeds, such as musk thistle and poison hemlock, which produce abundant seed.

In some cases, herbicides may be the most practical weed-control method.  For best results, determine the types of weeds to be controlled, their life cycles and the best time of year to apply them.  Two generally preferred times of year to apply herbicides in grass pastures are in the fall to early winter months or in the early spring when plants begin active growth. Avoid applying herbicides in mid-summer, because many common products for pastures have the potential to injure nearby, sensitive broad leaf crops like tobacco, vegetables and ornamentals, especially under unusually high air temperatures and humidity.

Feel free to contact me at your Spencer County Cooperative Extension Service at 477-2217 or you can email me at broberts@uky.edu.  You can visit the Spencer County Extension Services’ website at www.spencerextension.com.

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