Forage Utilization

Effects of Pasture Conditions in Spring on Seasonal Forage Productivity

  • J. R. Russell (Iowa State University)
  • S. M. Kremer (Iowa State University)
  • D. R. Strohbehn (Iowa State University)


Fifteen beef cow-calf producers in southern Iowa were selected based on locality, management level, historical date of grazing initiation and desire to participate in the project. In 1997 and 1998, all producers kept records of production and economic data using the Integrated Resource Management-Standardized Performance Analysis (IRM-SPA) records program. At the initiation of grazing on each farm in 1997 and 1998, Julian date, degree-days, cumulative precipitation, and soil moisture, phosphorus, and potassium concentrations were determined. Also determined were pH, temperature, and load-bearing capacity; and forage mass, sward height, morphology and dry matter concentration. Over the grazing season, forage production, measured both by cumulative mass and sward height, forage in vitro digestible dry matter concentration, and crude protein concentration were determined monthly. In the fall of 1996 the primary species in pastures on farms used in this project were cool-season grasses, which composed 76% of the live forage whereas legumes and weeds composed 8.3 and 15.3%, respectively. The average number of paddocks was 4.1, reflecting a low intensity rotational stocking system on most farms. The average dates of grazing initiation were May 5 and April 29 in 1997 and 1998, respectively, with standard deviations of 14.8 and 14.1 days. Because the average soil moisture of 23% was dry and did not differ between years, it seems that most producers delayed the initiation of grazing to avoid muddy conditions by initiating grazing at a nearly equal soil moisture. However, Julian date, degree-days, soil temperature and morphology index at grazing initiation were negatively related to seasonal forage production, measured as mass or sward height, in 1998. And forage mass and height at grazing initiation were negatively related to seasonal forage production, measured as sward height, in 1997. Moreover, the concentrations of digestible dry matter at the initiation of and during the grazing season and the concentrations of crude protein during the grazing season were lower than desired for optimal animal performance. Because the mean seasonal digestible dry matter concentration was negatively related to initial forage mass in 1997 and mean seasonal crude proteins concentrations were negatively related to the Julian date, degree-days, and morphology indeces in both years, it seems that delaying the initiation of grazing until pasture soils are not muddy, is limiting the quality as well as the quantity of pasture forage. In 1997, forage production and digestibility were positively related to the soil phosphorus concentration. Soil potassium concentration was positively related to forage digestibility in 1997 and forage production and crude protein concentration in 1998. Increasing the number of paddocks increased forage production, measured as sward height, in 1997, and forage digestible dry matter concentration in 1998. Increasing yields or the concentrations of digestible dry matter or crude protein of pasture forage reduced the costs of purchased feed per cow.

Keywords: ASL R1722

How to Cite:

Russell, J. R., Kremer, S. M. & Strohbehn, D. R., (2001) “Effects of Pasture Conditions in Spring on Seasonal Forage Productivity”, Iowa State University Animal Industry Report 1(1).

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Published on
01 Jan 2001
Peer Reviewed