As those rainy days of winter loom on the horizon, take advantage of the sunny, warm fall days to prepare your farm for winter! Tackling maintenance and good management practices now may help you avoid hours of cold, wet emergency repairs this winter.
During the busy days of summer, routine maintenance of fence lines and scouting for trouble spots may have landed on the back burner. Look for broken or sagging wire, unstable posts, and gate problems. If you have electric fences, make sure to mow surrounding weeds and grasses that may short out the system. Clean solar panels to collect as much sunlight as possible. Repost any missing or damaged “no trespassing” or “no hunting” signs. Avoid hunters tragically mistaking livestock for deer or elk.
Fall management of pastures has a great deal to do with the health of your pastures next year. This is the time of year for new root growth and storage of carbohydrates in the lower 3-4 inches of the stem. Any management of a pasture that hinders these two processes will mean problems for your pasture in the spring.
The following advice 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.
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 Minimum||Stubble Height|
|Tall Fescue||3-4 inches|
|Smooth Brome||3-4 inches|
|Perennial Rye Grass||2 inches|
|Orchard Grass||3-4 inches|
|Meadow Brome||3-4 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.
To read the full text of this autumn pasture management article, click on the link below.