7 Tips for a Healthy Cattle Pasture
Plenty of ranchers scoff at the pictures of idyllic farmer’s fields proudly splashed across brochures, websites and other advertisements. After all, cattle farmers know firsthand that the emerald-green fields shown in ads aren’t always the reality when it comes to cattle. Still, healthy cattle pastures – whether they’re green and ready for the pictures or not – have a major impact on cattle health and the products your cattle give back to you.
Here are seven ways you can make your cattle pasture healthier:
1. Get serious about soil health.
The right grasses can’t grow without healthy soil. Healthier soil can also yield better-quality grasses and legumes, which means healthier cattle. You can keep your soil in good shape by keeping it living. Invest in good irrigation and make sure there’s living roots in the soil, no matter what the season. One of the most important tips for good soil is to keep it covered. Exposure robs your soil of moisture, so make sure you tackle those bare ground areas.
2. Don’t guess on soil health – test it.
How can you tell whether the soil is healthy? While you may have a rural sixth sense, you can actually send your soil in for testing for the highest degree of accuracy. Once you have the numbers, you can try lime, fertilizer or any other amendments as needed.
If you’re planting grasses, you need a lower soil pH level. If you have a mix of both but are leaning more heavily towards legumes, stay away from fertilizers with a nitrogen base. These types of fertilizers will cause your grasses to grow, making your legumes struggle.
3. Be a good manager by planning and timing grazing right.
As a rancher, you know you need to plan ahead. You’ll need to plan what you’ll be planting, where you’ll be putting your cattle to graze, and what you need to take care of every season. A good organizational system and some advanced planning will keep things flowing smoothly.
4. Think carefully about the seeds you plant.
Most cattle pastures are a mix of legumes and grasses, but what mix and seeds are best for your cattle? If hay is a concern, Ladino clover (white) or red clover are good choices. Alfalfa is also a good choice if hay is your key concern. Take a look at the numbers from your soil test and think about your climate to decide what would grow best on your land.
There’s no shortage of advice out there, so consider the varieties and species carefully. Once you’ve made your picks, be sure to use certified seeds to prevent any surprises. When planting, use good quality sticking agents and inoculants. During planting, make sure the seeds make contact with the soil.
5. Reduce cover.
Bare soil is bad, but excessive cover and vegetation prevents seeds from making contact with the soil. Grasses, especially, can dwarf legumes, so make sure your cattle start grazing soon.
6. Control weeds.
Fast-growing weeds can drain nutrients from other plants, compete with your grasses and legumes, and can block out the sun when they shoot up — meaning the seeds you’ve planted will suffer. There are solutions out there for every weed under the sun, so identify what plant pests are trying to gain a foothold and act quickly.
7. Pay attention to the seasons.
Ever since the first cattle farmers set up their fields, seasons have played a major role in farming. Unless you’re planting alfalfa, plant in late winter so seeds get covered during freeze and thaw. During the growing season, use a rest and rotation grazing system or a rotation grazing system to keep cattle fed and to keep grasses and vegetation cover from getting out of control. Ideally, you want your legumes at 3-4 inches at first and then give them a few weeks to get established. Once they’re established, keep rotation ongoing to maintain healthy growth.
If you need handling equipment for the cattle benefitting from your healthy pastures, give Arrowquip a call. We’re committed to keeping cattle healthy and ranch operations running to their full potential.