If lack of rainfall is limiting the growth of your pasture forages, feed hay instead of overgrazing them, advises Victor Shelton, Natural Resources Conservation Service grazing specialist at Vincennes, IN.
“I will always recommend that you maintain some cover on the pastures and hay ground, too,” says Shelton. “Maintaining at least 3-4” of live growth means the plant is maintaining roots, keeping the ground covered and cooler, conserving what moisture is left and collecting what moisture it can from dew. If you find yourself in the situation where everything is to this stage, then you might want to consider feeding some hay.”
If you overgraze the forages now, they could be done for the year – or longer. But maintaining the forage base can pay you back in dividends that will keep you grazing longer into the fall or winter and perhaps make up the difference for the hay fed earlier.
“You have to consider potential growth when making this decision,” he says. “Your tall cool-season grasses like orchardgrass and tall fescue can certainly bounce back quite well in the fall with sufficient rain given the opportunity.”
If available, summer annuals such as brassicas (turnips, etc), millets, sorghum-sudangrass, teff or even grazing-type corn might buy you the same amount of time. Warm-season grasses such as switchgrass, indiangrass or big bluestem would also work during this period.
If the hay supply is short and there is nothing else to graze without overgrazing, consider selling some of your low-performing animals.
“Culling is usually a good thing,” says Shelton. “If you remove the lower 5 or 10% of the herd each year, the herd should consistently get better. Most producers … know which ones fall into this category.”