Here in Norfolk, spring is on its way and the earth is beginning to come to life again as the warmth infiltrates the soil.
Checking your pastures
If you haven’t already, it is a good time to get out onto your grassland and assess the conditions of your grazing meadows and paddocks so you can start planning out the year. It is good practice to make a note, written or mental, of what is happening. At the same time, take a look at your fencing and make sure it is fit for purpose.
Looking at the paddocks now in early to mid April, you may find some areas appear to be greening up a little quicker than areas around. At closer inspection it may be nice and green, but the green may be coming predominantly from a surge of clover and very little grass. If this is the case, ground cover is not yet where it should be. One conclusion to be drawn may be that the area was overgrazed last autumn/winter.
Ratio of grass to clover
This creates a few management issues. Number one, the field is going to require a little more rest now. If grazed too quickly, the competitive edge will be on the side of the clover. The grass will need a longer rest period to regain its strength. If the clover get too much of a foothold, the ratio of legume (clover) to grass can get too high. In cattle, bloat can become a problem.
This situation generally starts when the clover exceeds more than 30% of the sward dry matter, but it is even more of an issue when the clover starts exceeding 40% of the dry weight. Visual dry weight estimates of clover tend to be underestimated. If it looks like 40%, it could be 50% or more.
Also, grass generally makes up the majority of the production of the pasture. If the grasses are set back too much then production will be reduced and weed stress will most likely increase.
Fence off areas to allow recovery
If you are finding that the grass is taking its time to show itself or that clover is becoming dominant, then a simple remedy is to allow those areas to rest longer this spring before grazing them. Using some temporary fencing to keep the animals off the stressed areas or employing strip-grazing methods to rest part of the pasture will allow recovery.
If pastures were not overgrazed prior to dormancy last autumn and also maintained with adequate cover over the winter, then now you should be reaping the benefits – your pastures should have good cover with no soil showing. There will be a nice amount of dry matter left over from the previous year and new green grass growth coming up through it. Though not as prominent to start with, the legumes will start increasing soon and make a beautiful stand of forage. Production on this site will be improved, weed issues less, and the carbon to nitrogen ratio will be better balanced. These areas will also tolerate more grazing under wetter conditions as compared to the first site.
Slowly does it - let the sun do its work
One word of caution, as the pastures begin greening back up, it is very important to not start grazing too quickly. As the plant begins to green up, it first starts to rebuild its solar panel. Photosynthesis is needed at this point to build back new roots and reserves.
The more photosynthesis occurring per acre, the more carbon there is and more potential for increasing soil organic matter. As photosynthesis needs leaf surface area, the longer you can hold off grazing, the more photosynthesis will occur.