A good pasture is one of the most valuable assets that a homestead can have. It provides feed for a long period of time meaning that you have to buy less. However, pastures that are routinely grazed need a good maintenance program. Everything I know about maintaining pastures I learned from my grandaddy who was a cattle farmer. Most of the feed for his cows was gotten from the pasture. So I thought I would pass on a few of the tips that he passed on to me.
1. Rotate your pasture. This is important as the pasture needs time to rest and put on new growth. So even if you have limited pasture, divide it up. Even a short rest of a couple of weeks is better than none at all. Not rotating your pastures will lead to a lot of expense trying to keep forage in them for livestock.
2. Choose grasses and legumes that grow best in your area. I love Kentucky bluegrass and there is nothing that makes a prettier pasture. However, I know that my climate just will not support this grass. It is important for a successful pasture to grow the forage that grows best in your area. Down here in the deep south we grow Bahia or bermuda pastures mixed with clover. We overseed with perennial rye in the early fall for winter forage. I always recommend a mix of a grass and a legume. The legumes put nitrogen back into the soil which creates balance in soil health and the nutrition content of pasture.
3. Mow your pastures twice a year. We mow in the spring and in the fall. This will remove any rank growth of the grasses as well as keep the weed problem under control
4. Fertilize and lime your pastures. This can be done organically by using lime which is all natural and spreading manure each time you move livestock. If you can disk in the lime because it take an awful long time to get into the soil just by spreading it. If using commercial fertilizers, don't graze livestock on the pasture for several weeks after fertilizing. We also will use extra compost to fertilize with.
5. De-thatch if necessary.Horses and cows are hard on the ground, they compact it which does not allow for water, nutrition and air to get to the roots. It is important that periodically you go through the pasture and poke small holes in the ground so these things can get to the roots. Also de-thatch by taking a rake and pulling it through the grass. Somtimes clippings and such can build up around the plant further making it hard for water and nutrition to get into the soil.
By following these tips and working to maintain pastures you can provide year round nutritional grazing for your livestock, thus cutting down your feed bill.