By Dean Kreager
New Year’s Day has come and gone, as have some of our New Year’s resolutions: eat less junk food, go to the gym more often, lose weight, and the list goes on.
I hope our pasture management goals for the year last longer. As I contemplate the projects I have completed and those that are still on the list for another year, I think about how I can get more production from my pasture or how I can feed more animals on the same amount of land.
Today, I will stick with the “5 Things” theme in this issue and will touch on five areas of pasture management you can work on in January to improve utilization of your pastures through the growing season.
1) Weed control: Controlling woody invasive species such as multiflora rose, honey locust, and hawthorn trees can improve your pastures by reducing competition for nutrients as well as saving on flat tire repair, and reducing the number of lame animals from thorns.
A 2005 report from Cornell estimated invasive weeds in pastures in the United States cost $1 billion a year in losses and damages. It is a never-ending war, but even in January, you can win some battles.
Many herbicides are labeled for use on woody invasives and each use has advantages and disadvantages. During the winter, a basal bark treatment can be effective in controlling these problem plants.
Basal bark applications can be applied anytime during dormancy, which is typically mid-December to early April, as long as the plants are dry and little or no snow covers the base of the plant.
This time of year, with less vegetation, even small multiflora rose bushes or honey locust trees are easy to spot. Spraying can be limited to a small section of the plant reducing the amount of spray needed and the size of equipment used. A backpack sprayer is a good option.
Winter basal bark treatments also reduce the chance of harm to other plants from drift or through uptake from actively growing plants.
The spray mixture for basal bark treatment will usually be an oil soluble herbicide mixed with a petroleum-based product such as diesel fuel or kerosene.
A triclopyr product or one that has triclopyr and 2, 4-D can be very effective. The mixture is sprayed on the bottom 18 to 24 inches of the stem and crown of plants.
It will often work on plants with a diameter of up to 6 inches. A colorant can be added to assist with keeping track of where you have been.
Read the label to confirm the product is labeled for pasture use and then follow the instructions. Different herbicides will have different instructions and the label is the law for that product.
2) Fences: A warm day in January or February is a great time to get out and work on your fences. Dead vegetation reveals problems that may stay hidden in green grass and tall weeds.
Fixing fences now, especially on those sections that will have animals turned out on them in the spring, will save you from rushing around in the spring to make temporary fixes that will get you by until you have more time.
Do not forget to look for broken and cracked electric insulators and shorts that reduce the effectiveness of electric fences.
3) Water sources: One of the greatest limitations to efficient pasture utilization is the proximity to water. Look at your pasture layout and think about ways water sources could be added to reduce the distance to water or allow you to add additional sections within your pasture.
Can a spring be developed, a waterline added, or a stream or pond be adapted as a water source?
4) Soil testing: Pastures are often overlooked when we do soil testing. Just like your other crops, nutrients are removed from the soil when plants grow and are eaten by animals.
Some, but not all, of these nutrients are returned to the soil in manure and urine. Often, the problem is nutrients are not evenly spread across the pasture. Pasture lots should be designed to help spread the manure evenly by reducing congregation areas and moving animals frequently.
Do not forget to pay attention to pH, as this can be a limiting factor. Fescue may grow well at 5.5 pH while clover and alfalfa will not.
An application of lime may make a big difference in productivity.
5) Frost seeding: Look into the benefits of frost seeding additional legumes into your pastures. Often pastures do not contain as much legume as you think. Legumes should be 30-40 percent of the dry matter weight in the pasture if you want to fully utilize the nitrogen fixing capacity and eliminate the need to add nitrogen fertilizer.
Estimating the amount of clover in a pasture on a dry matter basis can be deceiving. The broad flat leaves that have a high moisture content can be misleading when looking at dry matter content.
The time to frost seed is approaching soon, so now is the time to order your seed.
I hope that you can find an item or two in this “5 Things” list that will improve the utilization of your pastures in 2018.