Spring is in the air and with spring our homestead pastures come alive. A pasture is a living thing and needs proper care. Grazing can reduce your yearly feed costs by up to 50 percent. A little help will keep your pasture healthy, happy and it will remain productive for many years.
A pasture is usually made up of grasses or legumes. These plants do very well on a well cared-for homestead. However, it does not take long for a pasture to become overgrown, weed-infested and, overall, less productive. Close management of the interaction between the plants, animals and soil is necessary for any successful grazing program.
The first things to look at for improving your homestead pasture are the plants. The most useful forage plant growth, to the grazing manager, is young growth. Young leafy growth produces the highest feed yields and is more desirable to livestock. It is usual to make up a pasture of a mix of forage plants. Weeds should not be prominent. The goal of the forage mix is to allow complementary plants to flourish and provide a more productive pasture than is possible with a single type of plant. As the plants reach maturity, the feed potential drops, because more of the plants are stems and reproductive organs rather than leaves. An overgrown pasture is also less productive because the excessive growth chokes off the new growth. Mowing can deal with overgrowth (stimulating the plant to produce new growth) and so can raking. Raking with a set of harrows is often done in the spring to remove the dead material from the previous year.
The spring is when the plants grow rapidly, leading to an abundance of forage. The disadvantage of all this growth is that it can outpace your ability to harvest. Particularly during the spring and early summer, when there can be too much growth, a homesteader may choose to harvest hay off part of the homestead. Later in the growing season he could then graze that hay field to reduce the stress on the plants in other areas.
Soil fertility and moisture level are critical to a healthy pasture. A soil analysis may be in order, particularly if your homestead has not had one done for several years. The livestock on the field provide insufficient fertilizer. Fertilizer application during the growing season will promote growth and improve the field’s yield. During particularly dry periods a pasture can respond well to irrigation.