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Determining pasture grazing readiness

The most reliable indicator is to look at your plants instead of the calendar

Spring is at our fingertips and everything’s starting to green up. Feed is the number one cost of raising livestock, so producers are antsy to get their animals grazing on pasture. But hold your horses – before you cut them loose, make sure the forage is ready to be munched on. Plants use energy during the winter and need time to build it back up.

Garry Lacefield is an extension forage specialist at the University of Kentucky. He says depending on the species, there should be six-to-eight inches of plant growth before putting animals out there.

"Now with that said, if we get out too quickly and we take that photosynthetic factory off every time it really gets started, we’re putting our plants at a detriment," says Lacefield. "We’re putting our plants sometimes in an energy-short situation. So if we can give ourselves a few days and let those pastures get going before we go on for the first time, it will help us down the road. They will get better growth, and we’ll have more pasture later."

There are methods such as counting the number of leaves on a plant, the calendar, and the number of growing-degree days to determine grazing readiness. But Lacefield says his preferred tool is the eye.

"You need to see grass plants that are vigorous and are deep green. If they’re a light carotic you know you’re suffering from some nitrogen shortages or some other mineral elements. If you look at legumes you need to see those growing right from the tip of the plant, that’s where your new growth is," says Lacefield. "Whether it’s a grass or legume, I like to look at the growth that’s occurred in the last day, the last two days. That’s your tell-tale sign of the health of the plant."

Lacefield says when the animals are out on pasture for the first time, it’s very important to move them around to other paddocks before they graze it down to stubble.

Click here for suggested forage grazing heights

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