Fall Pasture Management Tips

Late summer is not the time to neglect your pastures. How you manage your pastures during this period will affect their productivity for the remainder of this year and next.

Extending the grazing season until Christmas is an achievable goal for anyone, but there are a few important steps to follow if you want to achieve this.

The fields that are to be pastured after the end of the growing season need to be given time to grow and accumulate forage for late season grazing. Choosing the right fields is important.

The plants need ample opportunity to grow and accumulate forage for the fall. During August and early September, there is still sufficient day length and heat to promote good forage growth, but once we get to late September, the days are shorter and the night time temperatures low enough that very little growth will occur.

Picture of cattle grazing in winter pasture

What steps can you take now to ensure that there will be forage for the November-December period? The first is to select the fields that you want to use for stockpiled forage. Choose fields that have a good forage stand and are reasonably well drained. Grazing during wet fall conditions can damage the plants if the livestock are pugging (leaving deep hoof prints). Stockpile grazing is best achieved in fields where animal movement can be controlled and fresh strips of forage or new paddocks can be provided at least every week, preferably every few days. If the livestock have uncontrolled access to the entire area they will selectively graze and after a couple of weeks the forage quality will be greatly diminished.

The second step is to stop grazing the fields that you want to use for late fall grazing and allow the forage growth to accumulate. This is an important step in the process of setting up a stockpiling system. There must be sufficient volume of standing forage to provide the livestock with their feed requirements for the intended period.

The third step applies to grass based stands. Nitrogen applied in the late summer will stimulate fall growth and allow the plant to develop a strong root system for the fall. Nitrogen at this time will also promote top growth that will provide feed for the fall grazing. An application of 50-60- kg/ha of nitrogen will give a positive response. By following these three steps you will provide the late summer forage management that will give you the opportunity to graze until Christmas.

Trefoil is one of the better legumes for stockpile grazing as it holds its quality well into the late fall and early winter. Trefoil is a short-lived perennial that can re-seed itself if allowed to flower and fully develop the seedpods. If you have trefoil in your pasture it should be allowed to flower and set seed at sometime during the year. If the trefoil has not had the opportunity to do so up to this point in time, then give it a fall rest to allow seed set. The trefoil can then be grazed later in the season after all growth has ceased.

There are several other ideas that will provide forage for your livestock during the later part of the grazing season. Crop residues can provide excellent quality forage. Don't over look cereal stubble, as there will be some volunteer grain in these fields that can be grazed, or they can be seeded with oats or barley immediately after the cereal harvest. If clover was broadcast in the spring for a plow down/cover crop, consider grazing this growth as livestock feed. As well, corn stalks can provide a great deal of forage after the grain has been harvested.

With some planning and action in August there can be lots of opportunity to extend the grazing season through to early winter or in some cases late winter.

For more information go to the OMAFRA Website and search for "stockpile grazing" or "late season grazing".

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca