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Winter pasture

02/14/2011 @ 1:28pm

Snow and winter months can put a damper on pastures that have been trampled and have unknown weeds lurking below. Use these tips to get pastures in shape.

1. Place Fertilizer 

Using animal waste as fertilizer for your pasture in the winter can give a head start on growing in the spring. University of Minnesota Extension beef specialist Ryon Walker says that’s because the best winter fertilizer for pastures comes from animals.

Manure is free and has a lot of nutrients in it to give forage growth a boost in the spring. It’s common practice to confine animals to a small area then feed and water them in the same place all winter. Animals will leave the manure in a small enough area where it can be scraped up and spread around the pasture.

But there is another way to go about it, he explains. “We are utilizing pastures as our wintering area and feeding out there. Then we move our feeding sites throughout the pasture, because when cattle are fed hay, they’re going to be in one spot. So that’s where a lot of the manure collects. But if you move those feeding sites around the pasture during the winter, you get a more equal distribution of manure throughout the pasture.”

2. Graze Cautiously

Pastured livestock can often find something green to nibble on during the wintertime, but you have to be cautious. Overgrazing and hooves can stunt forage regrowth in the spring.

Hugh Aljoe, a pasture and range consultant, describes two of the best winter forages: cool-season perennials (usually fescues) or cool-season annuals that are planted on a regular basis. Deciding whether or not to let livestock graze depends on the weather.

“If it’s a perennial forage like fescue, it can withstand trampling and wetter conditions much better than an annual pasture would,” he explains. “If it’s an annual pasture, depending on whether you’ve no-tilled it or if it was planted in conventional tillage, you could have some mudding occur.”

Snow and ice are among the worst conditions for a pasture with livestock, especially if the herd is out on it right after a weather event. When an animal makes a footprint on the frozen foliage, the plants can die.

3. Control Weeds

Once the soil starts to warm, it’s important to get rid of weeds before they get big and unruly. Oregon State University’s Extension weed management specialist Andy Hulting says if weeds are a huge problem, it’s often a symptom of other pasture-management issues.

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Improving Soil Health