Management 'keys' open door to pasture possibilities
Purdue University Extension
A livestock producer needs the right keys to unlock the secrets of
establishing quality pastures, said Keith Johnson, Purdue University
Extension forage specialist.
"There are six keys to successful pasture management," Johnson said. "The
choice of a site is important, as is the soil on that site and the forage a
producer chooses to plant. They also need to think about the seeding
process, weed control and the first use of that forage."
Johnson will address each point during the Heart of America Grazing
Conference. The conference takes place Jan. 24-25 at the Mount Vernon, Ill.,
Holiday Inn. The hotel is located at the intersection of interstates 57 and
64, in south-central Illinois.
Purdue is a conference sponsor, along with four other Midwest land-grant
universities and 13 agricultural and government organizations.
Johnson's presentation, "Keys to Successful Pasture Establishment," is
scheduled for 1:45 p.m. and 3 p.m. CST Jan. 25.
When selecting a site, producers should consider its proximity to their
homestead, water and electricity, and whether the site is prone to flooding,
Johnson said. Soil composition and the types of forage it can grow also
should factor into a producer's decision, he said.
"We have to think about the choice of the forage as it relates to
establishing pastures," Johnson said. "First of all, what are the soils that
we have selected for the pasture, in regard to the forage to be grown? As an
example, alfalfa is not very well adapted to a poorly drained site. So
alfalfa would not be a good choice to have on a soil that has poor drainage.
Then we need to think about whether we make our own blend of grasses and
legumes or whether we buy pre-blended mixtures."
While pre-blended products might work well in some pastures, they aren't
ideal for every field.
"I have several concerns about just picking a pre-blended mixture off the
shelf," Johnson said. "First, are the right species in that bag? In other
words, if I don't need the 5 percent lespedeza then why have the 5 percent
lespedeza in the seed bag? Are the species in the right ratio? Some seed is
very small and if you have a 5 percent contribution of that seed by weight,
it could actually end up being 30 percent out in the field because the seed
size is so small. And, lastly, you lose control because you are not making
the choice of the varieties that are in that mixture."
Seeding too late or at the wrong depth can hamper stand establishment.
Johnson urged producers not to sow small forage seed like orchardgrass or
alfalfa deeper than one-fourth inch. If planted deeper the seed could
experience emergence problems, he said.
Pasture establishment issues continue even after a first crop is ready
for harvest, Johnson said.
"We need to allow these small plants to get established so that they can
take the stress of grazing," he said. "We do not want to go out and graze an
8-inch stand down to 1 inch or 2 inches and not allow recovery. I would
suggest that we graze only 50 percent of the forage that might be out there
the first time, to further allow that plant to establish.
"Preferably, instead of grazing first use, we probably ought to consider
making it as conserved forage, which means baling it as hay or making a
silage crop when soil conditions permit that to happen. That way, we're not
causing compaction by the harvest equipment."
In addition to Johnson's presentation, those attending the Heart of
America Grazing Conference will hear forage and livestock specialists
address such topics as grazing livestock on pasture with organic inputs,
stocking rates, legume utilization, tall fescue management, grazing and crop
rotation, and fencing.
Advance conference registration runs through Jan. 12. Early registration
is $50 for both days or $30 for one day of the conference. Registration
after Jan. 12 is $60 for both days and $40 for one day. Registration
includes a dinner, lunch and program materials.
To register online, log onto http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/HOAGC. For
more information about the conference, including a complete speaker
schedule, visit http://www.livestocktrail.uiuc.edu/pasturenet and then click
on the conference link; or contact Justin Sexten, University of Illinois
Extension beef specialist, at (618) 242-9310 or by e-mail at