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6 ways to reduce summer slump on pasture

Implementing these practices could save your pasture during the hottest months.

Allison Lund, Indiana Prairie Farmer Senior Editor

June 6, 2024

3 Min Read
Two women adjusting paddock fencing
ROTATE: A key practice to avoid overgrazing is rotating livestock through a series of paddocks. This will help your forages thrive and allow you to kick the summer slump. Allison Lund

Scalped pasture surfaces and hungry livestock are a scenario to avoid during the grazing season. How will you protect your pasture before growth is limited during the warmest parts of summer?

Keith Johnson, professor of agronomy at Purdue, says dry spells seen in mid- to late summer can be cause for concern. But producers can implement practices that will keep their pastures healthy. Johnson outlines six ways to reduce summer slump on pasture:

1. Consistent soil testing. A practice to consider ahead of time is testing soils to ensure the forages in your pasture are receiving the required nutrients.

“A high-yielding crop is going to take us further into the spring and summer than one that’s starting out with poor growth,” Johnson says.

The key to soil testing is to pick a time to take samples each year and stick to that schedule. Test whenever works for you, because forages do not have a restricted ease-of sampling window like row crops. However, Johnson notes that testing when the soil is dry lowers potassium test levels.

2. Drought-tolerant cool-season grasses. Selecting cool-season grasses that are not prone to summer slump can carry your pasture through the dry months. One that Johnson recommends is novel endophyte-free tall fescue. He adds that producers should avoid seeding high-endophyte non-novel tall fescue varieties because they reduce livestock performance.

3. Legumes. Legumes can perform better than cool-season grasses during the hottest, dryest parts of summer. “Legumes are not as summer slump-prone as compared to cool-season grasses,” Johnson adds.

Some legume species that Johnson recommends are red clover, white clover, alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil. Not only will these legumes provide more forage to graze, but they will also supply nitrogen.

4. Rotational grazing. Splitting your pasture into paddocks and moving livestock between the paddocks can prevent overgrazing and thinned forage stands.

Johnson says you don’t want it to look like a hay harvest has occurred after livestock have been on a paddock. Rather, you should leave at least 4 inches of forage when you move livestock to the next paddock. That number is 6 inches or more for warm-season grasses.

5. Spring seeding. Summer annual grasses are an option after harvesting a cover crop, after a failing perennial forage harvest or immediately after wheat harvest.

“Then, we can plant some very productive summer-type of crops that are warm-season annual grasses — specifically, sorghum-sudangrass, sudangrass or pearl millet,” Johnson says. “So, they would follow that niche forage harvest or failing forage harvest, and they should be providing very good productivity if seeded in the late May to early June time frame.”

6. Warm-season grass paddocks. Plan to have some of next year’s paddocks seeded exclusively with warm-season perennial grasses in midspring. Johnson says these species can provide a boost of productivity during the summer months following the cool-season grasses. However, grazing warm-season perennial grasses won’t take place for at least a year after the seeding.

Some solid choices are big bluestem, indiangrass and switchgrass. Johnson adds that these grasses are not a good choice for lactating dairy livestock. These grasses should take up about 25% of the total number of paddocks.

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About the Author(s)

Allison Lund

Indiana Prairie Farmer Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Allison Lund worked as a staff writer for Indiana Prairie Farmer before becoming editor in 2024. She graduated from Purdue University with a major in agricultural communications and a minor in crop science. She served as president of Purdue’s Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow chapter. In 2022, she received the American FFA Degree. 

Lund grew up on a cash grain farm in south-central Wisconsin, where the primary crops were corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. Her family also raised chewing tobacco and Hereford cattle. She spent most of her time helping with the tobacco crop in the summer and raising Boer goats for FFA projects. She lives near Winamac, Ind.

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