By Brian Hefty

What would it do to your bottom line if you could improve your grass production in your pastures by 50% each year?  Over the years, Darren and I have not only had the good fortune to spend time with and learn from some of the best crop farmers around the country, we’ve picked up some important tips from some great livestock people, as well.  Here are the top 7 tips:

Consider tiling wet areas.  The problem with tile in perennial crop acres (e.g. pasture ground), is the crop/grass roots can plug the tile lines eventually.  To reduce this problem, tile could be installed deeper, so 5 to 6 feet deep instead of 2 to 3 feet deep.  The steeper the grade, the fewer problems you will have, but if the tile eventually plugs up, you could try getting it cleaned out or you could replace it.  That said, even if you get 10 to 20 years out of a tile line, it was likely well worth it.

Grid or zone soil sample your pastures and fertilize accordingly.  You certainly don’t have to soil test your pastures every year, but when you test, pull good tests.  In other words, run a complete soil analysis on your tests that were pulled from either smaller grids or zones in your pasture land.  Pastures are often just as variable as crop fields, and they also typically respond just as well to a good, balanced fertility program.

Use RyzUp SmartGrass (gibberellic acid) early in the spring and late in the fall to increase cold weather growth significantly.  We all know that with good heat and moisture, grass can grow pretty well in the summertime.  The problem is getting your grass off to a quick start in the spring.  Plus, if you could add some growth at the end of the season in the fall, that would be great, too.  Gibberellic acid, especially when Fahrenheit temperatures are in the 50s and 60s, speeds vegetative growth.  This is a huge advantage in pastures, just like it is for silage corn.  Now that RyzUp is only a few dollars per acre, it’s economical, too.

Control weeds as early as possible.  In some cases, this means using a long residual product so weeds never even come up in the spring.  Almost everyone is busy in the spring, so sometimes it’s hard to make pasture spraying a priority.  If you know you can’t get out there until June each year, consider spraying in the fall before crop harvest instead.  Now that the Tordon price has come way down, it’s a great option with a super-long residual.  You should also consider using dicamba sometime in the spring, as it is cheaper than 2,4-D, and it won’t hurt your Xtend soybeans.  Not overgrazing is a key here, too, so consider our next point.

Rotational grazing techniques should be used.  Every area is a little different in terms of how long you should let cattle graze and how quickly you should move them from section to section in your pasture.  However, some type of rotational grazing would be very advantageous for overall grass production.  Yes, it requires some work, but from every study I’ve ever seen, the work definitely pays off in a big way.

Consider an insecticide when needed.  If insects are becoming an issue in your pasture, there are products including Sevin and Malathion that can be used.  Many of the common insecticides aren’t labeled for application while the cattle are grazing, so make sure you check the label for the product you want to spray.  Since insecticides are much less expensive today than just a few years ago, and since insect problems can damage your grass and affect your livestock, using a bug killer could provide a good return.

Consider cobalt fertilizer for livestock health.  While cobalt is not a nutrient we talk about often in crops, it is essential and often deficient when feeding nothing other than pasture grass.  Cobalt is required by all ruminant animals for the synthesis of vitamin B12.  Without good cobalt levels, your livestock may appear short in vitamin B12.  Cobalt deficiency is usually only a problem in lighter soils, but if you’ve had vitamin B12 issues in the past, you may want to test your soil for its cobalt levels.  On a related note, if you are having any other nutrient issues with your livestock, that should tip you off to what your soil is short on.  Generally speaking, it’s less expensive to fix your soil than to add supplements for your livestock.  Plus, when you fix your soil, you typically get the added benefit of greater grass production.