The Hot, Dry Days of Summer…What Does this Mean for Managing Pastures?

Summer so far has been a dry one, with very spotty precipitation.  As I am drive nearly every day through Holmes County, I observed once lush, green pastures become shorter and now have taken on that dry, crunchy texture indicative of a hot, dry Ohio summer.  That prompted me to re-visit an often-read article that was written by now retired OSU Extension Educator for Noble County, Daryl Clark.  The article is more than a decade old, but the strategies he outlined still ring true to this day for graziers.  Read on…

‘Excerpt from Daryl Clark’s Article ‘Grazing During Hot-Dry Times, August 10, 2005’

Strategies:

  1. Remember to take care of the forage. The forage plant must be our focus. Rain will come. Will your forage be ready to take advantage of it? Don’t graze your forage to the ground. Forage needs leaves to generate energy to survive and grow after drought.

  2. Hold to the principle “Don’t graze until the forage has matured enough to develop root reserves.” Premature grazing weakens the forage and in some cases causes the plants to die. Recovery time can also be doubled due to grazing too quickly.

  3. When heat and lack of rain slow growth, don’t graze as close. Additional residue helps shade the soil but also provides leaf surface for photosynthesis. These conditions are best geared toward the statement “take half – leave half.”

  4. A word of caution, taller residuals tend to favor deeper-rooted plants. Those who are “managing fescue” need to be aware that residuals need to change during the year. As a general rule, a short residual in wet warm weather favors shallower rooted forage like bluegrass/white clover. So vary the residual to maintain a diverse forage base.

  5. If forage growth isn’t adequate for livestock nutrient needs, supplement forage with stored feed! This supplementation can occur in the paddock with the pasture growth. However, if growth has stopped, and no additional paddocks of forage are available, chose a “sacrifice area” to feed the stored feeds. This “sacrifice area” could be an area where the additional fertility from the stored feed and manure can also be utilized.

  6. Supplemental feeds can be quite varied.

  • Old round bales

  • New round bales

  • Corn or other grain

  • Grain byproducts like corn gluten feed or soy hull pellets.

  • Your neighbor’s un-mowed meadows etc.

  • Let your imagination wander.

BUT ABOVE ALL, REMEMBER TO FOCUS ON THE FORAGE! Stored feed comes and goes but forage lives perennially – maintain its vigor. RAIN will return, have the forage in a state ready to benefit from it.

Source: http://u.osu.edu/beef/2005/08/10/grazing-during-hot-dry-times/

As you read through each of the recommended strategies, did you start to think you may have missed one or two along the way?  Never fear, if your pastures are way shorter than a chicken’s hock right now, one of the best management decisions you can right now is to pull the livestock off those short pastures and start feeding hay.  Feeding hay in July may sound a little strange, but it will benefit the grass to get the grazing pressure from your livestock off of it. Keep the livestock off pastures for several days or even weeks while the grass recovers. The rains will eventually come again…until then, give your grass the break it needs! 


Gina joined USDA-NRCS as a part-time intern in 2004 until she was brought in full-time in early 2006 as a Grasslands Specialist for the Zanesville Area Office.  Later in 2012, she became a Resource Conservationist for Coshocton and Holmes counties.  She holds a BS in Conservation from Kent State University. While she is based in Coshocton and can be reached there at (740) 622-8087 Ext 104, she’s also a frequent visitor to the Holmes office and can be reached at (330) 674-2811.  You can also reach her via email, which isgina.schworm@oh.usda.gov