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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

April 19, 2023 - 8:10am --

This week’s article comes from the Ohio BEEF Cattle Letter. This newsletter is a publication of the Ohio State University Extension Beef Team. Contributors include members of the OSU Beef Team and beef cattle specialists and economist from across the United States. “Can I start grazing” was written by Victor Shelton who is a retired NRCS Agronomist/Grazing Specialist.

“I have already heard the question, “When can we start grazing?” That question came up a bit earlier this year than normal because we had enough warm days in between the cold ones to provide the energy to really see some early green up.

I’ve seen a lot of livestock already out grazing fields. That is OK if they are still grazing stockpiled forages left from last year’s growth, but if they are consuming only new growth and chasing after each new green blade of grass like a chicken after a bug, then you’re usually doing more harm than good. Fields that were grazed hard last fall, especially prior to dormancy, and fields that were grazed early this year because the cows needed someplace to go, could absolutely use a longer deferment prior to grazing again this spring. 

Those fields will need to first try to grow or regrow their new solar panel off the reserves that are left, and then spend valuable time rebuilding roots and root reserves before allocating energy and resources on growing forage. The plant is going to try and preserve itself and yield is the last thing on its mind. It’s thinking about survival. If you push it too much, production is altered and seed head production will be more of a focus for the plant. Quite often you will find these stands initiating reproductive stages quicker and earlier because of this survival mechanism. In some cases, some anti-quality factors, such as alkaloids, may also be higher due to this stress. In the long run, if you take care of the plant, the plant will help take care of you.

Ideally, it is best to wait and let the forage grasses develop a good solar panel prior to starting to graze. In most tall, cool season forages like tall fescue and orchardgrass this is at least eight to 10 inches. A little more is usually better. If you say, “I can’t wait that long,” then you better keep the animals moving and rotating them pretty quickly and absolutely not allow any grazing of regrowth.

Nothing is more important than rest and recovery for forage plants. Multiple removal and multiple bites off the same plant, especially of regrowth, will hamper growth for the season and that forage plant will never fully express itself.

Ideally, after the plant has been grazed, it needs sufficient time and rest to allow it to fully recover prior to being grazed again. One very smart individual, Burt Smith, pointed out that if you can still see the last grazing event (torn or bitten leaf ends), then you shouldn’t be grazing yet. I’ve found this to be very true. The biggest challenge is staging out the paddocks where they don’t get ahead of you too much or are not ready for grazing again quick enough. If you start grazing too early, you will end up grazing regrowth prior to sufficient recovery. If you wait too long, you’ll have more grass trying to mature. Keep an eye on what is ahead growth wise. Faster rotations work well in the spring as long as you keep them moving. Slower rotations work well later with more growth letting them remove more yet keeping the grazing period short. This normally allows for longer recovery prior to grazing again.  We’ll talk more about this later.

Next week Victor will explain about how important soil testing is and briefly about poison hemlock. 10

Upcoming Events

Some events that are coming up include a Native Plant Day on April 21. Speakers will be talking about planning a pollinator garden, attracting wildlife to your yard, and planning native plantings for ecological balance. The cost to attend will be $10. On April 29 there will be a workshop at Smithville High School that will cover being successful in your flower beds and gardens from 9AM-11AM. The cost to attend will be $20. At the conclusion of the event attendees will be able to create their own hanging basket to take home. If you are interested in any of these events and want more information, please call the Extension office at 330-264-8722.

Shelby Tedrow is an OSU 4-H & AgNR Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or
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This article was previously published in The Daily Record.