Spring Grazing: Managing the Grass

  From the May 15, 2017 Issue of Agri-News
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 Turning animals onto pastures while grass plants are still small, succulent, and their second leaf barely fully emerged, may be doing more harm than good.

“A grass plant coming up in early spring needs to use stored carbohydrates in its roots and crowns as its main energy source for growth,” says Karin Lindquist, forage/beef specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “It’ll continue to source from these reserves as it develops more green leaf area and progressively gets more and more of its energy from the process of photosynthesis. By the time the plant is at the three leaf stage, it’s much more fully reliant on photosynthesis for its energy source and is ready to be grazed.”

However, says Lindquist, if that grass plant is bitten before it has reached that three leaf stage, it is forced to revert back to those energy stores to regrow again. “Repeated cycles of forcing the plant to use stored energy sources for regrowth significantly reduces the plant's ability to grow efficiently, and it may become unproductive or stunted for the rest of the grazing season. Roots will also be impacted, as less root volume and depth mean reduced opportunity for a plant to access needed moisture and nutrients.

“For every day you decide to put animals out on pasture early, you may get three days less to be able to graze in the fall. Depending on moisture conditions, grazing early in the season before grasses have reached the desired leaf stage can set you back further, particularly if dry conditions arrive later in the summer.”

Lindquist recommends that, when walking a pasture to check fences and grass, producers pull up a few random plants here and there and count the leaves including the top leaf coming straight up and out from the main stem. “It's best to go by leaf stage than plant height because different species of grasses grow at different heights at the same stages. If you count three or even four leaves on most, if not all, of the plants you've picked, then your pasture is ready for turnout.”

The past year has been fairly good with getting enough feed supply to potentially be able to carry over to this spring, says Lindquist. “If you have some feed left over, consider delaying turnout until plants are at the right stages, even if it's a week or two later than when you would typically turn them out. You might be able to get some benefits from being able to have more forage for grazing in the summer and fall.”

For more information, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276)

Karin Lindquist

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Karin Lindquist.
This document is maintained by Ken Blackley.
This information published to the web on May 11, 2017.
Last Reviewed/Revised on May 15, 2017.