Grazing management will take planning and careful consideration in the coming year. "Developing a grazing management plan for 2013 will be important," says University of Nebraska Extension grazing specialist, Jerry Volesky. "Pastures were stressed by drought, and in many cases the level of use in 2012 was higher than planned."
This situation has placed extreme stress on pasture plants, he says. "Grass recovery should be a primary objective," says Volesky. "Producers should review 2012 grazing records including dates and stocking rates, and evaluate pasture condition."
Much of the planning will depend on how much winter and spring precipitation develops, and the patterns of precipitation going into the next grazing season. "With average precipitation, pasture growth might appear promising, but many weedy or annual plants respond quickly after a drought," he says.
"These can provide some forage, but the utilization on the key perennial grass species should be monitored closely. Resting or deferring pastures that were heavily grazed in 2012 is important."
Stocking rate should correlate with herbage production. "You need to balance the supply of forages with demand," he says. If precipitation comes during late March into mid-May, that will be critical for cool-season grasses. For warm season pastures, precipitation in May, June and July produces the most forage.
The drought caused reduced above ground forages and less root growth, as well as fewer reproductive tillers and seed heads. Pastures were early maturing and went into dormancy throughout much of the summer, providing less forage production and lower quality forages. "Poor range conditions cause the recovery to be slower," Volesky says.
Deferment next spring might be difficult after a year of little available forages for grazing and skyrocketing hay prices, but it may be necessary to allow grazing land to recover. "Deferment means no grazing until fall or winter. Overall, adjusting stocking rates to match forage production is the single most important factor to prevent long-term damage to the base forage resource," Volesky says.
To learn more about grazing and forage management next season, contact Volesky at 308-696-6710.