Skip Navigation Links  

Pasture Management for Beef Cows

Pasture Management for Tennessee

Tennessee is one of the top livestock producing states in the country. Much of the livestock raised in Tennessee is by smaller, part-time producers. Whether you are large or small, good pasture management is often the most economical and practical way to provide high quality forage for your livestock.

But producing high yielding, top quality forage does not just happen. It takes careful planning and sound management to get productive pastures that provide good animal performance.

When developing a pasture program, the producer should begin by considering his or her goals and the resources present. A pastures current condition and its anticipated use, should determine whether to re-establish, renovate or leave the pasture as it is. Implementing good grazing management, controlling weeds, applying lime and fertilizer and improving plant stands, can improve most pastures.

Soil Fertility

Soil Fertility refers to the level of essential nutrients available for pasture plants. Proper soil fertility levels are essential to maintain good growth and assure high nutritional levels of forage plants. The only way to accurately know your soil fertility needs is to take a soil test.

The level of soil acidity or soil pH is one of the most important factors effecting plant growth. A low pH will make soil nutrients less available to plants meaning fertilizer you apply is not taken up by the plants in the field. The addition of lime can correct a low soil pH.

Pastures and hayfields are often low in phosphorous and potash. Both P and K are essential for good growth of forages plus helps to provide cold tolerance during the winter months. Micronutrients such as sulfur and magnesium are also essential for plant growth and should be monitored to assure that deficiencies do not occur.

Nitrogen is the element, which normally produces the most dramatic growth response in forage grasses. Good nitrogen management depends on applying the proper rate and proper timing of the application.

Cool-season grasses need to be fertilized with nitrogen in the fall when plants begin to grow and again in the spring to promote growth if hay is to be harvested.

It is unnecessary and undesirable to apply nitrogen fertilizer to forage legumes because legumes produce their own nitrogen in the soil. It is generally recommended that no nitrogen be applied to grass-legume mixtures if the legume makes up a substantial portion (usually 30 percent or more) of the stand.

Warm-season grasses need to be fertilized with nitrogen in the spring when plants begin to grow. For bermudagrass pastures apply nitrogen when plants begin to grow and another application later in the summer when moisture is adequate. For bermudagrass hay, apply nitrogen after each hay harvest to promote growth. Bermudagrass utilizes potassium in large amounts. Potassium should be added back to the soil to maintain yield and quality when removing large amounts of forage. 

Nutrient Removal of Forages Chart
  Fescue Orchardgrass Bermudagrass
  3.5 T/A 3 T/A 6 T/A
Nitrogen 135 150 258
Phosphate 65 50 60
Potash 185 185 288
Magnesium 13 13 18
Sulfur 14 13 30

Weed Control

Weeds are a common problem in forage production. They reduce yield, often lower forage quality and can be toxic to livestock. They also compete with desirable forage plants for moisture, nutrients and sunlight. Most weeds can be controlled by timely applications of a herbicide.

Keeping a few basic concepts in mind when making plans to spray a pasture for weed control can greatly increase the likelihood of success:
  1. Match the herbicide and rate of application to the weeds and pasture crops, which are present.
  2. Herbicides must be applied at the correct time to be effective. Weeds are easy to kill when they are small. If weeds get taller than knee-high, it is desirable to clip the pasture and spray the re-growth.
  3. Weeds should be sprayed when they are young and actively growing.
  4. Most pasture herbicides are most effective at 60 degrees F or above, and it is helpful to have several warm days in succession, before and after a herbicide application is made.
  5. It is necessary to get good herbicide coverage in order to obtain adequate weed control. At least 15 to 20 gallons of water per acre should be used with most herbicides and spray pressure should be 30 to 40 p.s.i. Some herbicides require the use of a surfactant or spray adjuvant.
  6. Pasture herbicides should always be used in a safe manner. Crops in the vicinity of the area to be sprayed may be damaged by spray drift.
  7. Herbicide labels should always be read carefully prior to use and directions followed exactly.

Forage Species Selection

Addition of Clovers

A goal of cattle producers is to provide the nutrients their cattle require as economically as possible. Allowing the cattle to acquire their own feed through grazing is the most efficient way to provide these nutrients. The majority of cattle in Tennessee graze tall fescue or orchardgrass pastures. While these pastures provide good quality forage over a long portion of the year, they can be improved. One of the best and easiest ways for improvement is to add legumes such as red or white clover and annual lespedeza to these pastures.

Benefits of clovers can produce benefits in four ways (1) increased yield (2) improved animal performance (3) nitrogen fixation (4) more summer production.

Forage Crop Establishment

Forage crop establishment is critical to a successful forage program. The first step in forage management is to have a good stand. There are two basic ways to plant a new stand of forage. One is conventional seeding which involves preparing a seed bed by plowing and disking a field. Once a smooth seedbed is prepared, seed can be drilled or broadcast onto the seedbed, and then cultipacked to ensure good soil contact with the seed. The other method is no-till seeding which uses chemical means to remove all plant competition. With this method, a herbicide is used prior to seeding to kill all existing vegetation. A no-till drill is used to place the seed in contact with the soil.

There are some factors that are important to consider when establishing new forage stands: (1) Fertilize according to soil test (2) Plant at the proper time (3) Plant the proper amount of seed (4) Plant when moisture is available (5) Plant at the proper depth.

For existing cool-season pastures, where stands of grass have become thin, additional grass seed can be planted. This can be done by grazing or clipping the pasture in mid-September to remove all top-growth. Seed can be drilled in mid to late September. Use the full seeding rate for the appropriate grass. If clovers need to be added, seed can be broadcast in late February or drilled in March.

Stockpiling Fescue

Stockpiling fescue is nothing more than accumulating forage while it is growing in the field for grazing later as needed. The purpose of stockpiling is to delay hay feeding by one to two months, which will decrease the amount of hay needed during the winter.

Tall fescue that is stockpiled in the fall is of higher quality than that stockpiled in the spring because it is more leafy, higher in protein and carbohydrates, and lower in fiber. A fall application of nitrogen on fescue will help lengthen the grazing season, and decrease your hay needs and winter feed bill. Hay production and feeding is one of the major expenses of cattle production. Stockpiling fescue can help decrease the amount of time and money it costs to produce hay.

The guidelines for a good stockpiling program are simple:
  1. Graze or clip fescue pastures short in early August. Make sure that all of the old, mature forage has been removed.
  2. Apply 60 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre in mid to late August. This will promote as much new growth as possible.
  3. Keep cattle off one or two of the pastures, which will allow fescue to accumulate.

Later in the fall or winter when the forage is needed, it can be grazed. Nitrogen should be applied to all tall fescue pastures in fall, even if they will not be stockpiled. Applying nitrogen will help increase fall growth, some of which can be grazed early or stockpiled for later.

Pasture Management for Horses

Keeping Up
Market watch
National ag news
Catalogs & brochures
Get in touch
Education & more
Programs & projects
What's New?
This document copyright © 2024 by Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. All rights reserved. Legal Notice