Prepare Now for Fall Pastures

Brown pastures of summer will soon green with fall rains.

Brown pastures of summer will soon green with fall rains.

Fall pasture management can help ensure a healthy pasture for next year.

As dry summer days give over to autumn rains, pasture grasses experience new root growth and work to store carbohydrates in the lower 3-4 inches of the stem. Anything that hinders these two processes will mean problems for your pasture in the spring.

Fall Pasture Management Advice from the Experts

The following advice about how to prepare for winter is from Gene Pirelli, Extension Animal Scientist, Oregon State University, and Steve Fransen, Extension Forage Agronomist, Washington State University, taken from their article, PASTURE MANAGEMENT: UNDERSTANDING PLANT AND ROOT GROWTH IN THE FALL (link provided below).


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Grass plants can be grazed down to a minimum height as shown in Table 1, but not grazed below that height. These recommended minimum stubble heights allow the plants the ability to store carbohydrates for vigorous re-growth in the fall. Grazing below this height will decrease your fall feed and subsequent spring growth.

Table 1. Recommended residual heights for some grasses during dormant periods

Grass MinimumStubble Height
Tall Fescue3-4 inches
Smooth Brome3-4 inches
Perennial Rye Grass2 inches
Orchard Grass3-4 inches
Meadow Brome3-4 inches
Bluegrass3-4 inches
Timothy4-6 inches

Fall is a great time to take soil samples to test the fertility of the pasture soil. Soil tests should be taken during the same month each year for consistency. Early fall is also a good time to apply nutrients based on your soil test. Oregon State University Extension Fertilizer Guides can help you decide the type and proper amount of nutrients. Manure or other sources of nitrogen can be applied based on plant nutrient needs, but just make sure that you do not apply too much nitrogen. Vigorously growing plants, resulting from high nitrogen applications late in the fall, are more susceptible to winter damage because the growth retards winter dormancy. An excessive nitrogen application will inhibit the plant from starting into its over-wintering response. High nitrogen tends to reduce sugar concentrations so the plant tries to refill its depleted stubble sugar bank account. If plants are not allowed to rest and prepare for winter, they are very susceptible to winter injury or death from the first major cold winter event. As temperatures change in the fall, plants protect themselves by producing a type of “antifreeze” called “Proline”. This “antifreeze” will accumulate in every living plant cell during the winter period only if excessive nitrogen is not available.

Eastern and western Oregon grass hay growers should follow the same recommendations as folks with pastures. Many grass hay growers with cattle like to move the animals onto the hay field after the last cutting has been removed. This long held practice may do more damage than you realize. The remaining hay stubble is high in storage sugars, just like in the pasture. Livestock tend to readily eat this plant portion because it tastes good. Without adequate storage of basal sugars prior to winter, those plants will have a distinct disadvantage in the spring. If you must graze hay fields in the fall, make sure you’ve given the field adequate time for regrowth to occur and to follow the same guidelines of stubble height minimums as for pastures.

For long-term survival of pastures and hayfields, remember to keep an eye on stubble heights and don’t graze below them. Allow roots to rebuild and shoots to develop by not grazing hard in the fall. Make plans to get on a soil testing schedule, which is usually a test every three to five years. Use that information to make the most economical fertilizer applications. By following some of these management tips, your pasture should be productive for many years.

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To read the full text of this autumn pasture management article, click on the link below.

Late Summer-Fall Pastures
Late Summer-Fall Pastures
Late-Summer-Fall-Pastures-reformatted.pdf
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