Whether your hayfields and pastures have winter injury is the first thing to check as you gear up for spring, says Doo-Hong Min, Michigan State University Extension forage specialist.
And if there’s severe injury or winterkill, reseed or frost-seed into existing vegetation to avoid serious weed invasions in damaged areas. Before you frost-seed, if needed, remove dead material to have better seed-soil contact, Min adds.
Here are other spring hay and pasture management tips he suggests:
Apply nitrogen (N) to grasses at green-up. Spring growth can be almost two-thirds of the whole year’s production, which makes it necessary to fertilize with 50 to 75 lbs N/acre. But apply that much N to grass-legume mixtures only if legumes are less than 40% of the mix.
Do spring-apply fertilizer to forages in split applications rather than the whole amount once, Min says. Applying too much N results in N loss through volatilization, surface runoff, leaching and even denitrification.
Soil sample for soil nutrient analyses. Without knowing your current soil nutrient levels, it’s impossible to expect a decent forage yield and even quality. In particular, it’s critical to have an optimum soil pH ranging from 6 to 7. If the pH isn’t in that range, fertilizers, including micronutrients, won’t work properly. Alfalfa needs a higher soil pH (between 6.5 and 7) than other legumes and grasses.
Start to graze when plant heights are 6-8”. If you have a rotational grazing system and wait until plants are 12-14” tall, those grazed in later paddocks will be overmature and high in undigestible lignin, resulting in lower intake by livestock. The poorly grazed portions will also affect future grazing cycles during the growing season.
Save areas for emergency. It’s hard to predict what each year’s weather will be, so have a contingency plan. If you have a pasture or field available that needs renovating, plant summer annuals such as sorghum-sudangrass, forage brassicas or millets, says Min.