Cattle feed is expensive today and not just corn and other grains. Pasture grasses and legumes are more expensive, too, because that land has to compete with corn. Those acres have to work as hard at growing grass as they would growing anything else.
In other words, pastures, too, must be stretched to the max. “With today's high input costs, you need all the extra grass you can get,” says Craig Alford, DuPont pasture management specialist. “That means taking care of all the pests that might limit productivity. I give farmers and ranchers this pasture checklist.”
● Assess what pests you have in your pastures. “You have to walk through them and look closely,” Alford says. “What insects are out there? Are there gophers? Do you have brush and trees in places you don't want them? You have to manage all of those issues.”
● Consider fertilizer. “In the Midwest, pastures usually respond to fertilizers,” Alford says. Do a soil analysis and ask your fertilizer dealer for advice.
● Look for weeds. If you see them coming in, your pastures likely need better weed-control management. “Weeds will take over when pastures are overgrazed,” Alford says. “It's a balancing act of having the right number of animals for the available forage. It can also be a matter of getting more uniform utilization across the whole pasture, forcing the animals to eat in all sections so they don't overgraze some areas and open the door for weeds to take hold,” he says.
To properly manage pastures, you need to take a whole-systems approach and look at everything. For instance, some weeds can be subdued by proper timing of fertilizer to encourage grass growth.
“I don't think you always need to think about spraying a herbicide,” Alford says. “In some cases, if the weed pressure is light, you might need to just do some manual weed cutting in problem areas. That can be true of trees or brush, too.”
Alford's company, DuPont, sells the weed-control product Cimarron Max. It controls broadleaf weeds, which means it will also kill clover, alfalfa, and other legumes in pastures. For many farmers and ranchers, their biggest dilemma with chemical weed control is how and when to spray yet not destroy some of the best grazing species.
“If you have legumes that you are worried about destroying, I recommend you don't spray for weeds in the early part of the season,” says Alford. “Rather, let the clover grow; some of it will seed out, and then it will go dormant.
“At that point, come in with a product like Cimarron Max,” he continues. “It will kill the clover if it is in an active growth stage. If it's dormant and has set seed, that seed will regrow the next year, and your legumes will come back.”
Alford says in the Midwest the biggest weed, by far, is thistle. “Cimarron Max is good on it. I like to spray when it is actively growing in the early spring or in the fall when it's in a vegetative state. If it is a bad infestation, you may have to spray to get it under control earlier in the year and then worry about getting the clover or other legumes to establish after you've controlled the thistle.