Pasture Management

Pasture management is the practice of growing healthy forage grasses and legumes that ensures a lasting food sources for livestock while at the same time focuses on maintaining and improving the ecological health of the soil.

The key to improving pasture production is realizing that livestock, grass, manure, soil and water are interconnected. How you manage one affects the other. When, where, and how long your livestock graze affects grass regrowth, weed competition, and the habitat surrounding those areas. How water runoff occurs on your farm affects the health of your livestock, the protection of your well, nearby streams and habitat, and the effectiveness of your management practices. By properly managing each aspect of your farm, you will have more productive pastures, less mud, healthier livestock, and greater satisfaction overall. 

BENEFITS TO MANAGING PASTURES

  • Minimize mud
  • Minimize weed pressure
  • Increase grass production
  • Improve livestock health
  • Reduce soil compaction
  • Improve soil drainage and soil water holding capacity
  • Improve soil health
  • Protect water quality
  • Protect fish and wildlife habitat
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pasture management practices

ARE YOUR PASTURES READY TO BE GRAZED?

Understanding grazing heights during the grass growing season is critical for forage production, forage density, minimizing weed pressure, and maintaining a stand of the most desirable forages for your livestock. The general rule is that we start grazing at 8-10 inches and stop grazing at 3-4 inches for the majority of desirable forages in our pastures. 

¿ESTÁN SUS PASTOS LISTOS PARA EL PASTAREO ESTA PRIMAVERA?


DO YOUR PASTURES NEED FERTILIZER?

Understanding soil nutrients and correcting nutrient deficiencies will improve forage production and help forage grasses and legumes outcompete the weed pressure in your pastures. If you have pastures or hay fields, you may qualify for our free soil testing program. More about our soil testing program is available on our Soil Sampling website page. We provide site specific recommendations of what to apply to correct nutrient deficiencies based on your soil test results.


¿NECESITAN FERTILIZANTE TUS PASTOS?

 

GRAZING TIPS 

  1. Livestock are merely harvesters of the primary crop - forage. A healthy forage crop ensures healthy, thriving livestock.
  2. Livestock should only graze each plant once during each grazing cycle. Subdivide pastures as needed and rotate livestock to fresh pastures often to maintain the best forage growth and density.
  3. Start grazing your pastures at 8-10 inches to keep the forage grasses in a vegetative phase that is more palatable. 
  4. Maintaining a minimum grass stubble height is important for an grazing management style. 
    • 3-4 inches for bunch grasses (orchard grass, rye grass, tall fescue)
    • 2-3 inches for sod grasses (bluegrass and bent grass)
  5. Wet and saturated soils in the winter and early spring are prone to compaction and livestock should be kept off the pastures to avoid delays in grass growth and to control weed pressure.
  6. Soil testing and applying fertilizers at the recommended rate and time based on your soil test results will increase forage production and improve nutrient availability for plant uptake. 
  7. Livestock manure is an abundant fertilizer! During the grazing season, harrowing the fields will help to evenly distribute nutrients, During the winter season when livestock are in confinement or heavy use areas, it is best to collect livestock manure to reduce mud. Composted livestock manure that is stored in a covered pile can be applied to the fields with a manure spreader during the grass growing season (April or May - September)
  8. Bare soil spots in your pasture is likely due to heavy livestock traffic. For feeding and pathway areas, reseeding with an annual grass or sod forming grass is highly recommended. If you notice a lot of bare spots throughout your pasture or low forage plant density, it may be due to overgrazing, infertility, and weed pressure. If the soil is left bare, it will become overgrown with weeds. 
  9. Mowing your pasture fields after grazing at least 1-2 times in the spring is the best first practice to reducing weed pressure. For certain weeds, target herbicide spraying and/or pulling may be the best way to get rid of that specific weed. 
  10. Reseeding an entire pasture is always the last step in renovating your pastures. If you have a high weed pressure or nutrient deficiencies, you may not see a result from reseeding. Since forage seed is expensive, it is best to implement rotational grazing and pasture management practices for 1-2 years at least before reseeding.  
  11. When reseeding your pastures, it is important that the forage seed mix contains species that are well suited for the soil type, the use (exercise area, pasture, hay field), your management practices, and that it contains desired forage specific for your livestock. 
  12. Pierce Conservation District's farm team is here to help you come up with a site specific plan for improving your pasture and hay fields and to help you reach your management goals.

PASTURE MANAGEMENT RESOURCES

For links to past recorded workshops on pasture management, visit our Farm Events and Workshops page.

Livestock Best Management Practices - Better Ground publication including the 3 best management practices for livestock farm operations. 

Pasture Management Calendar - Thurston Conservation District publication that includes a month by month pasture management calendar recommending which practices to do when. 

Pasture and Grazing Management in the Northwest - Pacific Northwest Extension publication, which is a partnership of the University of Idaho, Oregon State University, and Washington State University that is a comprehensive teaching guide for pasture management planning and implementation.

Horses on Spring Pastures - Better Ground publication providing information to consider when rotationally grazing horses in the spring on pastures in the Pacific Northwest.

Managing Small Acreage Livestock Farms - Oregon State University that details everything you should consider for having livestock, especially horses, on small acreage.

Rotation Grazing Paddock Sizing Calculator - NRCS developed excel sheet that helps you calculate the size, number, and rotation frequency of your divided pastures.

Pasture Calendar - Washington State University and Oregon State University publication that recommend specific grazing practices based on the grass growth pattern in the Western Washington and Western Oregon's regional climate data. 

Pasture and Hay Field Renovation Guide - Washington State University publication that explains what forages work best in different soils and management scenarios as well as outlines different methods for reseeding and establishing new forage cover. 

Pasture Reseeding Recommendations - Thurston Conservation District publications that outline specific forage varietals, timing, seeding rate, and best uses for each forage type.