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Maintaining a pasture to its maximum potential requires management that does not allow animals to overgraze, trample or compact the soil. Putting too many animals on the land will put increased stress on the pasture and can quickly turn the pasture into a muddy, weedy field. Improving or protecting the health of your pasture can help increase the property’s value, while reducing the amount of polluted runoff that leaves the land. A healthy pasture will also support animal health by providing nutritious forage that will better their chances of staying disease free.
Decisions crucial to grazing management should be made based on plant growth. Pasture crops vary in the time of season when they are most productive, so choose accordingly. Proper irrigation, soil management and lime application can help improve a pasture’s productivity. The state of a pasture is a sign of the current management practices; reseeding without changing management practices can be an expensive and ineffective decision. Soil analysis can help understand the needs of your pasture by giving the the tools for improvement of your current stand as well as any future seedings. testing methods and laboratories can be found through smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/soil-testing.When choosing a pasture crop it is recommended to choose a variety of grasses, legumes or mixture that suits your farm’s goals. Many seed mixtures will consist of a variety of grasses and legumes. Ultimately you want to choose a mixture that is best suited for the animals that will be foraging.
There are two primary styles of grazing available to property owners: continuous and rotational. Providing quality forage throughout the year helps save farmers a considerable amount of money on feed costs. In Marion County, year-around grazing is not advisable because of the wet and cold weather that occurs during late fall, winter and early spring. Ideally, animals should graze before pasture crops mature and produce a seed head. After a plant seeds, it will stop growing and is less palatable and nutritious to animals. Pasture crops should reach a height of 6-8” before allowing animals to graze. Only 50 percent (3-4”) of the crop height should be grazed; otherwise it will effect the plants ability to rejuvenate.
Rotational: Pastures are sub-divided into paddocks. Animals are frequently rotated between paddocks to allow forage to rejuvenate. This strategy re-quires property owners to have a base knowledge of their forage crops and an understanding of the animal-pasture interaction to be successful. Rotation frequency depends on the amount of forage available, crop type and the number and type of animals foraging.
Continuous: Animals are allowed to roam the entire property freely choosing the type of forage that they want to eat. Animals will forage the most nutritious and palatable plant species first until eventually they have exhausted the good forage species. This method of grazing can result in a patchwork of grass, weeds and mud because of the animals’ selectivity.