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Illinois Livestock Trail by UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS EXTENSION


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Fall pasture management
by Jim Morrison, Extension Educator, Crop Systems


Fall is an important time for forages as they are storing nutrients in preparation for winter. Here are some fall forage management tips that will pay off in the spring.

Soil fertility

Fall is a good time to take soil samples and determine phosphorus, potassium, and pH levels. A soil test now better reflects the plant available potassium in the soil. If the soil analysis requires limestone and one is following the Illinois Agronomy Handbook, apply only one-third of the recommended amount in any year since there will be very little incorporation of the broadcast lime. Generally, grasses will perform well at a pH of 6.0 or above while legumes need a pH of 6.5 or more (alfalfa needs a pH of 6.7 to 7.0). Each ton of dry matter hay removes about 55 pounds of K2O and 15 pounds of P2O5. If half of the recommended amount, as specified by yield goal, was applied after the first cutting, apply the remaining half after the last harvest in September. This split application pattern improves the efficiency of nutrient use by minimizing luxury consumption (especially for potassium).

Fall harvest management

Poor fall harvest timing can negatively influence stored root food reserves and contribute to poor winter survival. Midwestern studies indicate alfalfa cut in mid-September incurs the greatest reduction in forage yield the following spring. Plants left uncut, harvested in early September or late October-early November exhibit little winter injury and yield well. As a general guideline, 6 weeks are needed for forages to regrow and store the necessary food reserves for winter survival prior to a hard freeze that kills the shoots and stops food root reserve accumulation.

Plan now for frost seeding pastures

If you intend to frost seed or interseed pastures in early spring 2006, start planning now. Unlike the previous discussion, the existing stand needs to be weakened to allow the frost seeded species to reach the soil and to make the new seedlings more competitive in the spring. Overgrazing pastures in the fall will weaken the existing stand. Take soil samples and depending upon weed and the desired forage species, herbicide(s) may be applied to control pasture weeds.

Forage management in the fall can have a big impact on their performance the following spring.

Jim Morrison, (815) 397-7714, morrison@uiuc.edu
Date: 9/18/2005


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