Grass growth on Missouri pastures is a third of what it was last year at this time, says Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri (UM) forage specialist. “Last year in April, growth averaged 90 lbs of dry matter/day/acre. This year, growth is less than 30 lbs/day.” What pastures need, Kallenbach points out, is sunshine.
Temperatures are below normal by 6º, agrees Pat Guinan, MU Extension climatologist, and it’s been the coolest March and April in 17 years. The six-to-10-day forecast calls for temperatures to return to near normal.
“With warm weather, pastures will jump,” Kallenbach says. “There is no shortage of water over most of Missouri.” But grass growth will be slow on pastures grazed by cattle all spring. Cattle nip off leaves that create energy for regrowth. Sugars from photosynthesis make rapid growth. Leaves elongate and develop side tillers that create more leaves.
“If there was ever a time for rotational grazing, this is it,” Kallenbach says. “Graze the grass down to a 3” stubble, remove the herd, and let the grass rest for 30 days. The aim is not just grazing in April, but also through June and again in the autumn. Grass management is required for stands to fully recover.”
Some farmers have confined cows to smaller pastures for continued hay feeding. Others have been buying one or two bales at a time, hoping grass will soon grow tall enough to graze.
“Grass grazed short will take longer to recover from bad management,” Kallenbach warns. “Cows not being fed hay are eating a lot of scenery, which is not very nutritious.”
Where grass doesn’t grow, winter annual weeds, such as henbit and chickweed, will, because their seeds are already in the soil. Cows will graze chickweed, which is nutritious with little growth, but they won’t touch henbit.
Once those weeds are gone, however, consider seeding fescue grasses, especially if weeds like horse nettle could take those spots over.