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Animal Health Notebook

Thinking 'native' for better summer pastures

Thinking 'native' for better summer pastures
Evaluating pasture condition after a hot summer may give you clues on the best approach for the future.

I can’t speak for all of you all, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I might not be the only one guilty of complaining about the cold wet weather during the winter and early spring only to find myself raising Cain about the heat index of June, July, August and September. Presently, I am sitting here at Headquarters in mid-July. It is 95 degrees F. The humidity is in the mid 90’s and there is no breeze. The dew point is in the 70’s and if we get a shower it will be like a steam room in a matter of minutes when the sun pops back out.

BRING BACK WHAT'S THERE. This pasture uses warm-season grasses that are native, and took but a little encouragement to bring back with success. Intern Brenda Griffith shows how tall and lush this pasture is even in the heat of summer.

The right kind of cattle with the right kind of management takes the extremes much better than I often manage. While visiting with and complaining about the weather to Mississippi grazing legend Gordon Hazard a couple of years back, Doc reminded me that the weather would not distress me if I would “put it out of my mind”. Doc spent over 125 continuous days on the front line in France between Paris and the German border during the winter of 1944 and 1945. This was recorded to have been the worst winter weather Western Europe had experienced in 100 years. His outfit was on the front and open to the elements. He does not waste his time worrying over the weather.

Summer issues have been cussed and discussed by ranchers and authors for years. A somewhat less than exhaustive list includes:

- Loss of and lack of forage quality and often forage quantity.

- Lack of water quality and quantity in key locations

- Pinkeye, blackleg, and summer pneumonia

- Hot cattle

- Flies and parasites

-Lack of gain

- Lightning strikes

Pasture tactics

I will attempt to address some of my thoughts concerning these maladies and some extensive planning we have instituted over the past couple of decades. It has been a long time since we have experienced a severe “summer slump”.

In the natural model of the past, ruminants actually fattened in the late summer and early to mid-fall. Much of the range conditions, forages, and animal type have since been changed. The water cycle today is near nonfunctional in many locations. The weather cycles are predictable and almost the same.

Much of North America has been transformed from a diverse planet of perennial and annual warm season plants with widely spaced trees and a small percentage (less than 30%) of cool season plants. We have replaced the majority of our tall, deep rooted, high energy forage with vast seas of lower energy and tonnage cool season grasses and legumes. These cool season plants love water and are generally shallow rooted. When mid-July arrives they stop. If the rain does not come, they don’t wait that long.

No grass growth, no litter, no quality, shallow roots, and bare ground is what we see. Pop up rain showers have very little positive affect. The water cycle is broken. Animal health and productivity suffer. Profit margins are short.

In our country, the timber has thickened to the point of near zero growth under the trees. There is very little forage in the woods and no bacterial microbe life and no sunshine. The timber quality is mostly gone.

Twenty years ago, I was told that we needed more high tonnage, tall warm season grass. We spent money on different magical plants and programs. The results were not good and certainly not sustainable.

Eventually we started managing away from what we had too much of and managing and planning for what we wanted more of. We started looking down and learning what nature was attempting to tell us. We found that our seed bank was full of higher quality grasses that would grow where they had 300 years ago.

Fescue is an example of what has happened. When we stopped fertilizing and grazing for more fescue, it started thinning, going dormant and getting out of the way, on most sights. On higher fertility sights a little chemical burn is often necessary.

Tall warm season forages have come in and mostly from the seed bank. If they grow on the road side we can grow them in the field. To the untrained eye much of our pasture is now an ugly jungle much of the year, but our steers now make good gains in late July, August, September, October, and November.

I was recently accused of over grazing a pasture in June. I agreed with the gentleman and invited him back to take a look in early November. Hope he comes for another visit.

I'll offer a little more insight on this topic later this month.

**Doc can be reached at 931-761-5001 or email 499 [email protected]

He offers economical telephone consultation service and small group intensive half day outside conferences on multiple ranch and pasture sites. Low input soil building, cattle production and health, and plant energy are his emphasis.

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