Best Management Practices Will Reap the Most From Pastures

5/11/2013 7:00 AM
By Carol Ann Gregg Western Pa. Correspondent

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. — It isn’t often that you see Tim Elder at a meeting where he doesn’t have with him a florescent pink grazing stick.

This meeting of the Northwest Pennsylvania Herford Association was no different. Elder shared his insights and encouraged attendees to upgrade their pastures to improve their bottom lines in the new grazing season that is upon us.

Elder, a grazing specialist with Natural Resources and Conservation Service, helps farmers navigate the bureaucracy of federal conservation programs in 15 counties of western Pennsylvania.

“With the high cost of corn and hay you need to be using BMP, best management practices, to get more out of your pastures to offset feed costs,” Elder said.

He cited a study that showed that when pastures were divided into at least eight paddocks there was an average of 30 percent more feed available to the grazing herd.

The grass that is given more time to rest and regrow produces more forage for the animals.

An early study that was done in France compared the pastures of a dairy with the grass area along the roadway where dairywomen pastured their cows.

The women moved their cows to new grass daily along the road, and the area that was pastured the day before was left to recover. The study showed that there was more grass for the cows to eat when the grass was given time to rest and regrow.

Elder used his pink grazing stick to illustrate that the best stage of growth for turning animals into pasture was at the 8- to 10-inch height. At this height, the grasses are in the pre-boot stage. The herd should be removed from the pasture when it is eaten down to 3- or 4-inch height.

Not only does this give the grass time to recover as forage, but it also encourages more root growth beneath the surface. The fine roots feed the micro-organisms in the soil. This also encourages more oxygen in the soil.

“By managing grass at a little higher stage, it increases root development,” Elder said.

Elder encouraged using a diversity of plant materials in pastures to improve the ecosystem and improve feed value.

A mix of grasses and legumes also improves the soil fertility. Plants convert solar energy into chemical energy, which nourishes the grazing cattle.

Though pastures will grow with native species, Elder encouraged the farmers to talk to some of the seed salesmen about some of the new varieties available and to experiment to find what works well on their farms.

Farmers interested in participating in conservation programs like EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) or CEAP (Conservation Effects Assessment Project) should contact their area’s NRCS office to set up an appointment.

Elder can assist with grazing plans and other practices that will improve the soil and water conservation of the farm.

There is some cost sharing for interior fencing, water systems, development of riparian areas, stream crossings and stream fencing. There is also assistance available for putting in cement pads in high use areas such as barnyards or feeding areas.

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