Dale Watson
Commercial Agriculture Beef and Livestock Specialist
University of Missouri Extension




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Please send your comments and sund suggestions to Dale Watson, Commercial Agriculture Beef and Livestock Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, 111 N. Mason, Carrollton, MO 64633, call 660-542-1792, or send messages by e-mail to: watsond@missouri.edu.
For the Week of
May 6, 1999

Keeping Forages Growing

Each year questions result regarding rotational grazing to maximize the forage utilization of pastures. Grazing management is often considered as being an art instead of just opening and shutting gates. Knowing when to graze and when to move to the next area requires close observation and knowledge of forage growth.

All forage plants are different in their growth patterns, season production, stage of maturity and dormancy period. Kentucky Bluegrass provides the opportunity to start grazing at 4 to 5 inches in height and should be grazed no shorter then 2 inches. The initial grazing of Orchard Grass and Reed Canary can be started at approximately 6 to 8 inches in height and should not be grazed any shorter than 4 inches. Smooth Bromegrass, Tall Fescue and Timothy should have a minimum height of 6 inches and the cattle should be removed when the plant height is reduced to approximately 4 inches.

Warm season grasses should have a minimum height of 10 inches for Big Bluestem, 12 inches for Indiangrass, and 16 inches for Switchgrass for initial grazing. None of the listed warm season grasses should be grazed shorter than 6 inches.

There are many advantages to managing your grazing systems compared to continuous grazing. Keep in mind that your livestock is the key to harvesting, digesting and manure distribution. Just a simple rotational grazing system will increase forage production and condition of pasture over a continuous system. Advancing to a multi-paddock system will provide the highest forage production and use per acre.

The rotational system will provide forages the opportunity to rest and develop regrowth for later in the grazing season. This in turn will provide a longer grazing season and reduce the amount of harvested and stored feed required for winter. Both of these systems will provide a more even distribution of manure compared to the continuous grazing system.

Nothing is free of cost or additional time required to accomplish. There are several disadvantages to managing grazing systems. The first consideration is providing water. Water is the key to managing and controlling grazing management. Additional fencing oftentimes will provide ample access to present water locations. Thinking how a grazing layout can be accomplished to provide water frequently exploits forage utilization. Water is the key to all managed grazing operations.

The multi-paddock layout requires careful monitoring of the available forage. Determining when to move livestock to another grazing area to maintain root systems to promote plant regrowth is the key to having a successful grazing season.

May is certainly an odd time to be talking about frost. However, allowing for ample regrowth prior to a killing frost is a very important factor to retaining a forage stand for next year’s growth. This is why we frequently hear the comment that October is the critical month for maintaining forage stands for next year’s production. Managing your grazing to provide a 4 to 6 inch height when killing frost occurs is desired.

University of Missouri ExtensionDale's Country Trails - May 6, 1999
http://outreach.missouri.edu/agconnection/DCT/CT050699.html -- Revised: April 20, 2004