McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Spot grazing in native grass both good and bad

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  • In order to protect the long-term productivity of our native pastures, cattlemen must develop a good understanding of several key facts having to do with spot grazing.
    1. Spot grazing is absolutely necessary for optimum animal performance. This is where cattle find the most nutritious grass. (This is why some rotation grazing systems hurt animal performance — the cattle do not have spots to go back to. It helps the grass, admittedly, but hurts cattle performance).
    2. Spot grazing in the same spot year after year creates low vigor, over-grazed areas.
    Eventually, the good native grasses die out. Unless a pasture is burned, cattle go back to the same spots every year.
    3. The highest nutrition, most palatable native grasses are: Big Bluestem, Indiangrass, Little Bluestem, Switchgrass, and Sideoats Grama.
    4. All native grass roots die within three years and must be regenerated.
    5. Roots are regenerated by excess energy from leaves. Overgrazed areas produce virtually no excess energy for regeneration. Cattle continually eat the new growth grass down before it has a chance to regenerate.
    6. Roots of a vigorous, healthy native grass plant extend 8-12 feet below ground.
    7. Roots of an overgrazed native plant extend only 1-2 feet into the soil.
    8. As good native grass species (decreasers) lose vigor due to overgrazing, other less nutritious, less palatable grasses (increasers) take over.
    9. As spot grazing continues in the same spot during the years, undesirable species, such as silver bluestem, tall dropseed, prairie three-awn and weeds become the dominant species.
    10. Native grass pastures greening up in mid-April are, unfortunately, showing early dominance of invader species of Kentucky bluegrass and wild oat species, not good native species. These early grasses hurt native grass growth due to competition for moisture and nutrients.
    11. Kentucky bluegrass, wild oats, tall dropseed, silver bluestem and other increaser species are detrimental to beef gains per acre. Cattle don’t like these, and their nutritional value is very poor.
    12. Spot overgrazing has become more common in central Kansas due to three main factors:
    a) livestock sector pushing too many cattle into a pasture for too long of a grazing season;
    b) dry weather;
    c) absence of fire.
    Spring tillage often compacts root zone
    One of the facts of crop production is that most conventional tillage farmers need to work their fields in the spring in preparation for planting summer crops. Unfortunately, along with this necessity comes soil compaction which restricts root penetration.
    There just are not many times in the spring when fields are dry enough on top to perform needed field work such as disking, chiseling or field cultivating without also being wet enough just under the soil surface to create compaction. The disk is probably the worst offender, although any time we drive over a field doing anything, we make it harder for the crops to root down to make efficient use of water in dry times.
    Page 2 of 2 - I think we need to go back and seriously consider a concept of planning ahead in the fall to eliminate as much spring tillage as possible. I realize that herbicides are not cheap, but the benefits of using them in combination with other herbicides to eliminate weeds in the spring rather than tillage outweigh the costs.
    With modern planters and drills, farmers can get a good stand in fields that are thoughtfully prepared in the fall without any additional spring cultivation.
    Plus, with fuel costs and tractor operating costs where they are, eliminating a couple of trips will make a big difference in cost of production.
    Dale Ladd is the agriculture extension agent for the McPherson County K-State Extension Service office. He can be reached by calling 241-1523.
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